Crash and Burnham

The following story is an exept from the conversation with Ben Burnham.

It was a Sunday, I think it was December 14, 1986. A gal, I canít remember her last name, but her first name was Margie. She worked at "Bobís Bargain Barn" when it was still open. She and Doug Lantz and Lynn Butterfield and I went climbing that day. I donít know what climb Doug and Lynn were doing, but Margie and I had done "R1". I led it and she followed. At that time you rappelled off the chains at the top of it. When you rappelled down you literally came down on the north side of that pillar. I had looked at that rock for some time and felt that there was a climb there. I said, "Do you mind belaying me?" and she said, "No, I donít mind." So I started up. I had one, two, three, four pieces in, and I was at the beginning of the crux move. I had gone up- and down-climbed it several times and finally I was sitting on a sloping ledge and then all I can remember is stepping back over to the climb.

I canít remember the climb. The neurosurgeon told me that one of the reasons you canít remember these things is that your body protects you from these traumatic experiences. But what in fact had happened is because I had these moves even more wired now, because I had been up there two or three times. I made the moves. I had two pieces in and they were below my feet, maybe three or four feet. I felt good about it. But when I fell, they both came out. The piece I had in below them was closer to the deck than I was to it. So I crash landed.

They had to call "Search and Rescue" and they took me to the hospital and I spent 16 days in a coma. I think I woke up on the 30th of the month. It was early in the morning, 3:00 in the morning. I didnít know exactly where I was at but I knew I was in a hospital because of the smell. There is a certain odor that permeates a hospital. I couldnít figure out what had happened. I could not figure out what had happened to me. At that time I was married and it took a while for Maureen to feel comfortable in telling me what happened.

I didnít climb for three or four months and then Doug and I went up to Goosehead. There was an easy climb there and he led it. I was still suffering from extreme vertigo at times. I did one step onto the rock and I had vertigo set in and I couldnít do it. I donít know how he managed to clean the route, but he did. I didnít climb for a month and then we went to "Green Slabs" and just to the right of "Toy Roof" there is a little crack there. He led that and I followed him on that. That was my first successful climb after my accident. It took me a while to get over the fear, as it would anyone, I am sure, of falling and ending up in a hospital. That was not something that I thought about.

While I was recuperating, even before I started climbing, I had Maureen drive me up on the mountain and if you climb up on a little rock there by the guard rails at the top of the Rupley Towers you can see the climb that I fell on. At that time, even in her very nice, luxurious car, every time she went over the slightest dip in the road, my head was justÖ like my brain was frazzled in there, it was just driving me crazy. But I did look at the climb and I wanted to make sure that I was not overwhelmed with just the rock itself. I had overcome that. I canít let these fears rule what you are doing.

I guess it about a year and a half after that, by this time I had gotten my first drillÖ I probably had gotten my first power drill in 1987 or 88, and I went back down and this time, on lead, I took my drill and put in two bolts, on lead, and finished the climb. Doug and I put up a climb on the end of the Beaver Wall and we had done it without a bolt the first time we did it and then we went back and added a bolt. We named that climb "This boltís for you," kind of a take off on the Bud commercials. I was going to name this climb "This boltís for me." A lady at the time, Serena Goodrich, since my last name was Burnham, she came up with the term "Crash and Burnham" and how could I pass up an opportunity to use that. And so thatís the name it has.

I think in my own personal opinion itís probably a 10c. Although our local guidebook author has no desire to use the letters, I think numbers, +, -, and letters all apply. I think there are some climbs on the mountain that are 10a that are 10-. I think there are climbs on the mountain that are 10- that are 10a or 10b. It is a shame that all of them canít be used. Some of us in this climbing community we have here, still are not too forward-looking at our approach to climbing.

Did you get the first ascent on "Crash and Burnham"?

Oh, I did. I did.

Thatís pretty good.

And while I am laying in the hospital, Kevin Carmichael, Eric Rhicard, and several others put up other climbs in the area Ė called "Recovery Room", "Malpractice", "Trauma Center". I guess I got the ball rolling on that, but boy was it a costly ball.

You bet. Pretty tough to overcome that?

It is. The choice is yours. It always is. No matter what fear you have. This is the way I feel about it, if you let fears determine what you do the rest of your life, you may not get much done. If you have a fear of heights, go out and get high, if you have a fear of depths, go into a cave, if you have a fear of singing, donít come around me.

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Copyright ©: 2001, RAHutchins and Ben Burnham
Revised: July 13, 2001