Niles Barnes - Reader Blog 1

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The Alps in a whiteout. Photo by Tim Yarborough

The Alps in a whiteout. Photo by Tim Yarborough

Sunnset in the Alps. Photo by Krzysiek Rychlik

Sunnset in the Alps. Photo by Krzysiek Rychlik

Frostbitten in Chamonix

I remember when I first discovered that there are more important things in life than climbing. It was morning and I was standing outside in the cold of March, down coat over top of my hospital gown, bandages covering my hands and an IV hooked to my arm. It was day 5 of being in the Chamonix hospital and I was taking a moment to walk around and stretch my legs in the parking lot.

I had spent the day before in a nearby hospital receiving bone scans on my fingers to see if amputation would be necessary. The tests results wouldn’t come in until evening and I had just a little time until I got hooked back up to my daily IV of meds that pumped me for 8 hours a day trying to increase my circulation.

Taping-up for the next adventure. Photo by Tim Yarborough

Taping-up for the next adventure. Photo by Tim Yarborough

With Frostbite. Photo by Niles Barnes.

With Frostbite. Photo by Niles Barnes.

I was standing in the shadow of the mountains staring up at them, Mt Blanc off to the north, appearing very secure in the clear morning sky. The jagged rock faces of the other mountains were staring down on me unmoving. It was at this moment that I realized the mountains didn’t care if I lost my hands or not. Nothing up there would shed a tear. But my family back home was worried and those that cared about me did care what happened. I was not immune from being hurt or hurting others.

Up until then I did feel a certain immunity from danger or even being hurt. My ego enjoyed pushing it and I let it lead me. I simply got lucky that the place where I crossed over the edge happened to have world class mountain rescue, and the best doctors in the world for treating mountain injuries (in the Chamonix hospital, there are climbing posters on the x-ray machines and the doctors wear Nepal Extremes).

A celebratory photo from when I was back home. My sister baked me a cookie in the shape of a hand to celebrate the fact that I still had my fingers. Photo courtesy of Niles Barnes

A celebratory photo from when I was back home. My sister baked me a cookie in the shape of a hand to celebrate the fact that I still had my fingers. Photo courtesy of Niles Barnes

Barnes fires up a pitch at Ontario

Barnes fires up a pitch at Ontario

Although I know that family, community and loved ones are much more important that climbing, I still LOVE it and do it as often as I can. The doctors in Chamonix said I should wait a year before rock climbing and two or more before ice climbing again. Yet, 6 months after returning home, I was back out pulling on the granite of North Carolina. Three months after that, I was in Northern Ontario climbing the beautiful ice in Orient Bay.

It’s hopelessly cliché, but I did develop a new appreciation for life during those days spent in the hospital. Most importantly, I discovered how climbing fits into the rest of my life. It is simply a piece to a much bigger part.

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