Blood Spider

Ander Rockstad disinfected a razor under a flame. He took the blade and sliced into his swollen forearm. Then he watched in horror as inky, black fluid drained out.

By Keith Ladzinski | February 24th, 2010

keithAnder Rockstad disinfected a razor under a flame. He took the blade and sliced into his swollen forearm. Then he watched in horror as inky, black fluid drained out.

Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to deal with the unexpected. Ander Rockstad, 23, who was raised in the extreme environment of Fairbanks, Alaska, deals with uncomfortable situations as if he’s right at home.

After graduating from Colorado College in 2008, Rockstad had booked a ticket to South Africa to boulder at Rocklands. He had discovered climbing in college, during an impromptu trip to Hueco Tanks, and was instantly taken by the movement and experience. In only five years, Rockstad, who has a near photographic memory, achieved 5.13c redpoints and V11 boulder problems. Rocklands was his first big climbing trip abroad.

From the start the trip was tumultuous, but Rockstad proved himself resourceful. He arrived in Cape Town in a torrential rainstorm and his ride never showed up. After two days stranded, Rockstad got desperate and called the police. The authorities picked him up and hauled him back to the station. It took them awhile, but in time the police realized he was just a climbing bum. Their suspicion turned to sympathy, and they drove him three hours to the Pakius Pass campsite at Rocklands, arriving at 4 a.m.

The climbing went well for a couple of weeks until the rains came back and flooded the campsite. Fortunately, Rockstad had befriended one of the local farmers, who offered the use of an old abandoned cottage on his property. Though drier than a tent, the cottage was riddled with problems, including rat droppings, broken windows, rusty nails and spiders.

One morning Rockstad woke up and found a small red bump on his forearm with two tiny holes, clearly a spider bite. Despite some pain and swelling, Rockstad went bouldering. I felt strong all day, but never really accomplished much, Rockstad says.

By the next morning, Rockstad’s arm was swollen, with long red streaks: early signs of blood poisoning. When Rockstad cut his arm and saw the black fluid drain, he realized the situation was serious. He borrowed a British friend’s junky car, which he drove at unprecedented speeds to a clinic in Clan William, making a 30-minute trip in 14 minutes flat.

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The clinic doctor, however, was late for a local rugby match, and told the nurses to turn Rockstad away.

So I made a scene, Rockstad says. When the doctor finally came out, he was so angry that he took me into a back room, grabbed my arm, and lacerated it without any anesthetic. He aggressively drained my arm, starting high on the arm and working his way down towards the incision. Dark venom oozed out. It was agonizing! Then he told me to get out and go to the hospital.

By the time Rockstad left the clinic, a passenger, a guy named Mike, whom Rockstad had been instructed by the car’s owner to pick up, had driven off. Rockstad was stranded again. Once again, he called the police, who drove him with a hole in his arm through traffic to the hospital.

After three days of lying on a rusty, creaky bed at a rural South African hospital, Rockstad was picked up by two friends who took him to a better hospital in Cape Town.

The venom and antibodies severely damaged my forearm veins, Rockstad says. It took about six months to heal. I know it sounds crazy, but it was one of the most memorable and paradoxically funny predicaments I’ve ever experienced. Already, Rockstad is planning a trip back.

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