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Extreme Colorado climber faces up to adversity

Anica Wong
The Denver Post
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver PostCraig DeMartino inches his way up the Piano Boulders near Horsetooth Reservoir, and looks the better for it
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Craig DeMartino remembers unhooking his climbing clip and pushing off the cliff wall. He and a buddy had been rock climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park on that summer afternoon in 2002. When DeMartino pushed off, he soon realized he wasn’t attached to anything, the result of a miscommunication with his climbing partner.

He fell an estimated 80 feet backward before hitting a dead tree 20 feet above ground. The impact tipped DeMartino, causing him to fall toward the ground like an arrow.

“I landed standing from 100 feet up,” said DeMartino.



When his feet hit the ground, his body kept moving downward because of the velocity of his fall. His climbing shoes exploded off his feet. A shock wave coursed through his body, causing his L2 vertebra to disintegrate. His neck broke as he crumpled to the ground, still conscious.

Fast forward roughly seven years from the anniversary of the fall and you’ll find DeMartino bouldering outside of Fort Collins with his wife and two children. On the surface, it seems the only difference between their life before and after the fall is that DeMartino has a prosthetic leg. But pain, knowledge and compassion set roots deep into a survivor’s life.



A string of unusual circumstances saved DeMartino’s life that July day. His friend Steve Gorhm, who had more than 20 years of climbing experience, almost never carried a cellphone on climbing trips. That day he had one. And when he dialed 911, he was able to get a cell signal in the rugged wilderness four miles from Estes Park.

Eric Gabriel of Rocky Mountain Rescue took the call. Gabriel, also an avid rock climber, was familiar with where DeMartino had fallen and knew shortcut routes to get to him. Gabriel was stabilizing DeMartino within 30 minutes.

“We had done another major rescue on that same buttress,” said Gabriel. “We had knowledge on how to extricate people from the ground from that location.”



It took a rescue team five hours to carry DeMartino to a spot where a helicopter could pick him up and transport him to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins. The hardest part for Gabriel, though, wasn’t getting DeMartino to the hospital. It was telling DeMartino’s wife, Cyndy, about the severity of her husband’s injuries.

“Eric made me realize just how serious it was, that they weren’t even necessarily expecting him to survive,” Cyndy said.

For more of this Denver Post story: http://www.denverpost.com/sports/ci_12934152


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