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An Epic for Everyone

BY JACK CLINTON

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MY EPIC: EPISODE 3

An Epic for Everyone

BY JACK CLINTON

One beautiful October day I was bouldering a perfect set of finger locks at the bottom of a route at Vedauwoo when I reached a flared hand jam, groped and fell. I heard my ankle snap like the rap of a gavel, and I broke out in a nauseous sweat when I saw my foot, completely detached from my ankle, turned in 90 degrees to my knee. Alone, I crawled half a mile back to the car, which sucked but I did it, then experienced a second crux in realizing I couldn’t drive a standard shift with a broken left ankle.

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Q&A

Q: What specifically about the avalanche scare made you call it quits? How was it different than your other calls?

A: I have to confess I didn’t really quit ice climbing on that particular day of the avalanche, but I knew at that point that the random death dealing risks did not out weigh the joy.  I was never really in love with ice climbing, it was just something that I did to climb in the winter.  I live very close to a lot of good ice, like the Beartooths and the South Fork of the Shoshone, and I had had a good run for a few years and had done some good clean ascents. I was already considering quitting while I was ahead.  Then that very large avalanche appears out of no where, and I knew that there is just too much in ice climbing that is beyond the control of skill and judgment.  A similar out-of-the-blue avalanche killed an acquaintance of mine a few years earlier in the South Fork.  I actually quit ice climbing after I totally broke my ankle when I snagged a crampon in a silly little ground fall at the end of an ice climb.

Q: You act as if “epics” are normal. Where did that start and how have you gotten so close to them?

A: I started climbing in the 70’s in the Tetons. We had 150’ ropes and a rack of nuts and hexes. If we did harder mountain routes we sometimes brought a couple of pitons.

 

With snow, ice, loose rock, and storms, epic situations were quite common. Perhaps it was uncommon to have a route that went completely according to plan. Ice climbing there was even worse. Then in the Wind Rivers in those days, you were pretty much on your own if anything happened. That was just how it was.

Q: How has being a parent affected your climbing and look at risk?

A: I think about my wife and daughter whenever things go bad or have the chance to. I’d like to think that I push myself climbing, but my judgment lately is pretty conservative.

Q: Is there anything you would tell your 18-year-old self? Or are the epics you went through all part of the process.

A: My eighteen-year old self? I would have told to climb even more, and not stay focused on one area, to get out and climb everywhere all the time.

Q: Have you picked up any more “safe” hobbies?

A: No safe hobbies, except Nordic track skiing. I still rock climb in all modes, but after two broken ankles, I don’t boulder. I still really love trad climbing and alpine rock. I am currently just waiting for school to end.

 

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