raising little ones in the great outdoors

Close Call on Mt. Moran

Helmets save lives – I’ve collected all the data I’ll ever need. Four years ago I was climbing the CMC route on Mt. Moran with my friend, Jerry, and his two sons. In hindsight, we should have been more cautious. When we traversed onto the route, there were two groups above us. Almost like an omen, a loose rock whizzed past us and we made sure to stay out from under the group just above us. Jerry and I led the first pitch and belayed his sons from the comfort of a large ledge. That’s when we heard “Rock!!” from somewhere above. I glanced up to see a sky full of rocks coming our way. I hugged the wall as tight as I could, and felt a few little pings on my helmet and pack, but wasn’t hit directly. Beneath us, Jerry’s sons were protected by a slight overhang. Jerry wasn’t so lucky. I turned to see him slumped against the wall, blood running down his neck, a little trickle from his nose, and a spot of his blood in his ear. He didn’t appear to have lost consciousness, but he was totally out of it.

Jerry's helmet broke, but not his head.

Jerry's helmet broke, but not his head.

I ran through our situation – obviously severe head injury, non-responsive patient, the hardest climbing on the route would be getting back to our camp. I called 911. The Grand Teton rangers set in motion a perfect helicopter extraction. Within an hour the heli was circling. I knew Jerry was going to be OK when he started making picture taking motions as the ranger came in on the end of the line. Fortunately, he’d sustained what turned out to be fairly minor injuries – a nice concussion and a lacerated scalp. Without the helmet he would have died there, 80 feet above his two boys.

In an interesting coincidence, a few days later Jerry’s neighbor was hit by a car in a low-speed collision while riding her bike in town, without a helmet. She wasn’t really hurt, just a little dazed, but they took her to the hospital just in case. While there, her consciousness level rapidly deteriorated, and they took her into emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma. She eventually made a full recovery after a long period of rehab.

I’ll admit that I don’t always wear a helmet. In fact, this past weekend while climbing, I didn’t wear the helmet on the day’s first climb. Then I felt guilty about the example, wore it for the second climb and cursed it the whole time. The headband collected sweat until it reached a critical mass and gushed into my sunglasses. I’ve seen my kids bounce their helmet-clad skulls off curbs and sidewalk, but we’re not perfect helmet-wearers. Our kids complain or “forget” to wear their helmets. But we try. I have the extra motivation of a mental image of Jerry on the side of the mountain. I will always wear a helmet in the mountains. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if he hadn’t been wearing that helmet.

— Steve Bohrer

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3 Responses to “Close Call on Mt. Moran”

  1. Arran Mitchell says:

    One of our finest British actresses Natasha Richardson died of what seemed a fairly innocuous head injury as a result of a minor head bump whilst ski-ing. Do we need any more reasons to always wear a helmet? In Australia it is a legal requirement to wear a helmet whilst cycling, not so here in the UK.
    This is a great site, many thanks.

  2. Jeremy says:

    And the positive is that awesome shot of the rescue he can frame.
    Recently a local climber took a relatively routine fall while trad climbing. His gear held but his foot hit a rock and flipped him upside down where he sustained a head injury the helmet he left home would have prevented. A week later his parents buried him. Makes me feel foolish for not wearing my brain bucket.

  3. Kevin says:

    I vividly remember stashing my geeky bike helmet as soon as I got out of sight of my dad but now kids helmets are ‘cool’ looking and my boys feel naked biking or skiing without them. I even have started skiing with a full face DH bike helmet since I am too cheap to have yet another helmet for every sport and see some advantages for sure.

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