While listening to a talk on wilderness medicine in the morning , I silently answered the question that the lecturer posed: What is the most common reason for medical intervention in the backcountry? Trauma is of course the answer, though my answer gets at the cause of most trauma, stupidity.
As my wife, kids and I enjoyed 19 inches of new snow at Alta, I kept a close eye on my children. There were more than enough slides of comminuted fractures to make anyone wary of taking their children out on the mountain. A few pictures and stories made me uneasy about going for a technical trail run. Nonetheless, we were out having a great day. I was standing on top of a 15 foot ledge with my 8 year-old son that we had dropped off earlier in the day. Now we were back for more fun. He quickly dropped in and skied out without difficulty. I picked a nice line between some rocks, but angled towards some untracked powder (stupid). When I hit the powder my feet stopped and my upper body continued. Had my bindings released all would have been well. Instead I started a forward roll with heels firmly locked in place. My right gastrocnemius had a snap that I was certain was not good. As I pushed my toes down in my boot, I knew my Achilles tendon was intact. After a few minutes of quietly sitting in pain, not wanting to stir alarm in my daughter who had skied over to assist me, I put my ski back on and descended down. Our day was over, and while I was able to hike up to our car, I could feel the muscle starting to swell.
We stopped in the Alta Medical Clinic, where Dr. Ken Libre, a friend and colleague gave me an ace wrap, a bag of ice, and advice. Ken asked my age, and nonchalantly said that this was a typical injury for my age. At first I thought he was nuts, and that anyone with this mechanism of fall would have this injury, but as I have read today medial gastrocnemius strains/tears are a problem of men in their late 30's and 40's. Apparently after this type of injury you have 70% function following the injury, but within a day the functional strength is about 50% due to hemorrhage into the muscle and active inflammation. Currently with my rather pathetic hobbling, swelling and pain in my calf, 50% might be generous estimate. By 2 weeks there supposedly is close to 90% strength, but the healing is far from complete. Ken warned me that I would feel pretty good at 2 weeks, but to not push it. How about a 50 mile race in 3 weeks? "That will be tough."
So, I am sitting resting, hitting the ice, compressing with an ace wrap, and keeping my feet up with hopes that I will have fast generation of fibroblasts to fix the torn muscle fibers. I can't complain it was a fantastic day, and I was happy to have been the one who was hurt. Still I am very sorry that the Buffalo 50 looks like a long shot.