Long Road Ahead, November 22 2015 - Mark Rafferty
Climbing Joshua Tree 2015

After visiting Evan in LA it really had me thinking of my career I would want to pursue after this gap year. Tossing and turning over different areas where I would spend most of my job outside and what not I started to get stressed. Right away I turned off that part of my brain and focused it on my upcoming adventures and let that career choice fall into place. Well hopefully. Making my way into Tucson, Arizona I experienced I totally different type of beauty in the desert. Even though I'm barely above sea level it was like I was in the mountains. The deeper I came into Arizona the larger the dirt mountains became. As soon as I reached Tuscon your surrounded by these desert mountains. Made me feel as if this was Montana, just without the water, trees, and snow cap mountains. I was very anxious to see what type of rock these mountains had to offer.


The main reason being here in Tucson was to visit a good friend of mine Kenzie for a few days and take her out climbing so she can have a little taste of home. I would occasionally take her climbing in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Looking for a place for someone's input on the climbing here I instantly went to a local gear shop called Summit Hut. As soon as I asked about climbing I instantly had all my questions answered. Where to climb, where to get away with sleeping in my van, best water, least crowded areas, and so on. Since Kenzie was in school for most of the day I spent my time admiring gear at this outlet store. I'm sure the employees were watching me close due to the fact I probly looked homeless with my dirty clothes and long hair. The following day Kenzie and I headed up to Mount Lemmon to an area called Windy Point just an hour above Tucson. As we pulled into the parking lot we spotted a small pinnacle we were looking at a few days earlier on Mountain Project called Hitchcock Pinnacle. Most the routes up are very moderate routes that provide some great styles of climbing. As we got to the base we see a few college students on the main route of the climb. So I decided to lead up a variation called the Northwest Route 5.8. The route started off with an easy chimney that lead me to the arete of the pinnacle. About half way up you reach a small 10 foot crack system that gave perfect hand jams. The rest of the route consisted of low angle shelf climbing. Once I reached the summit my hands were frozen since the climb was in the shade. Being on top and in the sun really helped me warm up. Once Kenzie got to the top, hands frozen, we started talking to the college kids looking for some other local routes that we should do. As I'm asking them for beta I see that they have a small grill and are cooking hot dogs on top of the pinnacle that was most likely 9'x9'. Not necessarily the biggest place for a BBQ but it seemed alright. Reminded me of the multiple times my friends and I would climb the spires and bring out Jetboils on top to enjoy some beef Ramen Noodles for lunch. We were always looking for cool places to make or eat dinners with the best views.


This pinnacle seemed to sufficed. The top of the pinnacle was just high enough to see the city of Tucson along with the Saharan Desert around it. It was incredible. Once Kenzie and I rappelled off the other side we ended up over what looked like a very fun climb with a cool roof problem. The route is called the East Face and is rated at a 5.10a. From what I found out is that this route is mostly top roped due to the "sketch factor" of the route. The sketch factor being that it may be a little runout at the top however it seemed like its runout because of the low grade, so I wasn't too worried. Getting the base of the route I racked up and was ready to lead up this thing. Making sure Kenzie was ready to go I started climbing. The first section of the route starts as an easy 5.7 series of cracks. Knowing I wasn't going to take a fall I placed my first cam about 15 feet up. Lading me just below the roof problem. Not being sure how hard this might be I placed another cam just below in a wide finger crack. Making sure the piece was solid I spent a little bit longer making sure all there lobes were touching. When I went to send the roof I felt very good. All my moves were very static and felt like I was going to send this thing. As soon as i got passed the roof I started to feel a little pumped. Which made me nervous since the next section was all mostly crimps. Getting tired I went take a small fall, maybe 5 or 8 feet. However when I fell and loaded the cam I set below the rock around the cam exploded and I started falling father. I fell so far that I actually hit the ground. I was surprised that I ended up hitting the ground. As soon as I hit I was gasping for air. I really got the wind knocked out of me. Seeing that I was awake and conscious i looked up and seeing that a fell about 40 feet. Making sure everything was okay I was checking my body looking for any injury when I saw my ankle. As I looked at my ankle I could see my bone sticking out of the side of it. Once I saw that a rush of pain powered over me. I started to yell. Immediately Kenzie rushed over to me apologizing thinking it was her fault. I of course was saying that "Its okay." over and over again. Since I was so close to the road many by standers had already called for help, As I was laying there a local fire fighter came over to help with my leg. Holding my leg up I then laid down with my back hurting quite a bit. About 15 min later paramedics came to take vitals and make sure I was okay. When I was explaining what happened one main respond, "Well thats what happens when you climb on decomposing granite." In my head I'm thinking like what the hell why didn't anybody tell me that this granite is basically crumbling everywhere. Would have given a warning or something! Laying there the paramedics were able to give me morphine. Which did relief my pain little but not much.


More people started showing up and started to get me ready to be moved. Taking off my jacket and cutting my harness they then put my ankle into a splint and transferred me to a board. I could hear the paramedics saying that this trail is going to be a bitch to carry me out on. I figured with 9 guys carrying me that they could get the job done. Once I got to the parking lot I could see the college student above on the pinnacle looking down on me. I wonder what they were thinking of me at that moment? Getting into the ambulance and then being transferred to the helicopter went by very fast. The men in the ambulance were very cool guys. Taking pictures of my ankle and showing me telling stories of many different stuff they have experienced. As soon as I was brought into the helicopter they were allowed to give me more morphine. I feel like they must have given me a lot. 15 minutes felt like seconds before I knew it were were at the hospital landed and in the emergency room. At this point the doctors kept asking me the same questions over and over again. Once I was put under and woken back up it all turned into a blur. The most I remember were the long nights spend in pain waiting to get into surgery. Hours after hours nurses kept coming in telling me some new update while they gave me more pain killers. Then I got word that my parents were on their way down to come and see me. They would be here once I woke up from surgery. Long story short at the end of it all I ended up with an open compound fracture in my left ankle which was then fixed with a single plate set with 6 screws that will forever stay in my ankle. As for my back I had received a compressed hairline fracture in the lower vertebrae of my spine. With another few days in the hospital and a long 24 hour painful car ride home. I'm now back home laying in bed resting. For 2 months I can't put any weight on my ankle and for 3 months I have to keep a back brace on. Its hard getting used to this being that I've never broken before this. Its difficult from going 100 miles and hour to 0. Laying down and watching movies isn't something I normally do. But I have nothing else to do. My biggest challenge is learning that I can't leave this single level of my house for months. As soon as I'm able to walk again I have a lot of training to look forward to. Getting my strength up and ready to go for the spring.