A mistake, then a freefall in Vail
VAIL, Colorado ” Chris Boratenski was suspended 72 feet above the ground in Vail, Colorado when he felt a pop. A second later, he felt another pop.
Then he went into a freefall.
He watched the rope that was supposed to be supporting him slowly coil like a snake at his side as he fell.
“The only thing that went through my mind was envisioning my wife and my son, who just turned a year old two days ago,” Boratenski said Wednesday. “I just said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I wasn’t going to be there for him.'”
Boratenski, 31, of Evergreen, and two friends were climbing the Designator, a massive, vertical ice formation that hugs a cliff near East Vail, on Saturday.
As Boratenski will readily admit, his own mistake caused the accident.
He was the first one up that morning, using a technique called “lead climbing” to ascend the ice. At the top, he prepared a rope for a different technique that they would start using, called “top-roping,” in which a rope runs from a person at the bottom, through an anchor at the top, and then back down to the climber.
At the top, Boratenski found nylon cords as well as a metal carabiner. He used the nylon instead of the metal as an anchor, something he now knows was a terrible mistake.
“It was a major oversight on my part in that friction caused when rappelling off the top rope is going to burn through those anchors,” Boratenski said.
His two friends both used the rig to climb up and down the Designator. By the time it was Boratenski’s turn again, the nylon was primed to snap. Which is exactly what happened.
He doesn’t remember the impact.
Based on photos, he and his partners later calculated that the free-fall was 72 feet to the nearly-flat ground below. His friends told him that he landed on his back and tumbled another 30 feet.
Apparently, he slowly began to regain consciousness about 30 seconds after impact.
It took rescuers 30 minutes to reach him, and two and a half hours to get him down to the ambulance.
Boratenski said he didn’t expect to survive the fall. He came away with nine broken vertebrae, a broken rib, a collapsed lung, lacerations to his face and a broken nose. He was released from Vail Valley Medical Center on Wednesday.
Doctors believe he’ll make a full recovery, though he’ll have to spend eight weeks in a back brace.
“I consider myself extremely lucky,” he said. “I’m so thankful that it was me that fell. I can’t even fathom if I was the one to set those anchors and (his climbing partners) Oscar or Charlotte … ,” Boratenski said, his voice halting with emotion. “If those guys had been … .”
Boratenski said he’s been ice climbing since 1999 and has done big climbs in Ouray and Banff, Alberta. He’s done much more difficult climbs than the one in Vail that almost took his life, he said.
“That very well could have been a big part of the problem, that I was overconfident and too comfortable in my surroundings up there,” he said.
He said he plans to ice climb again.
“I can’t blame ice climbing for what happened up there,” said Boratenski, who works as a mobile technology consultant. “All I can blame is my own lack of oversight in taking the right precautions and doing the right things.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.