2Point5Mil: Broken, Not Beaten

At 6 a.m., my alarm goes off. Snooze…. 6:09…. Snooze…. 6:18….

I roll over and let my legs fall from bed. My feet hit the floor and I sit there for another two minutes trying to figure out if I am really going to get out of bed. Yesterday was the fifth day in a row hiking and skiing 10,000-plus vertical feet in the Wasatch Mountains, and my legs are shot. And while my energy is dwindling, my excitement is still high.

It snowed nearly every day in January and tailed off into February, leaving us with great coverage and stability. It has been easy to keep motivation going. I finally stand up and walk to the bathroom and about an hour later I’m in the parking lot putting on my ski boots.

Another day in the life of chasing 2.5 million vertical feet. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

Another day in the life of chasing 2.5 million vertical feet. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

But since February 8, everything has taken me a bit more time.

That day, I was skinning and had earned 9,000 feet when I tripped and put my hands before me to catch my fall.

It was nothing major; I was going uphill at a walking pace, but my left hand landed on a pointy rock.

I shook off my snowy hand and something did not feel right. Oddly enough, I wasn’t in pain, but was beginning to feel nauseous—I looked at my left hand and a bunch of my fingers were pointed off to the side. Though I was mostly calm, my brain panicked at the sight and the only logical thing to do was put the fingers back where they were supposed to be.

Miraculously, still no pain, but a lot of crunching noises. I’ve heard this from many friends before that they knew they’d broken something as soon as it had happened. I too knew as soon as it happened that I’d broken my left hand.

The damage done. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

The damage done. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

I was lucky. I stood on top of a ridge and could easily ski back to my car. I gingerly transitioned and ate and drank a little bit to tame my nausea. Then I skied back to my car with both poles in one hand. Hey, I thought to myself, at least I am still powder skiing.

While skinning and skiing 10,000 feet per day, I eat a lot. And I knew if I went straight to the ER I would be exceptionally hungry. So instead I went home, had a huge dinner and then went to the ER.

Rice had his cast molded to allow him to grab his ski pole and his mother made him a custom mitt to cover the cast. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

Rice had his cast molded to allow him to grab his ski pole and his mother made him a custom mitt to cover the cast. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

When I got there I was sipping on some tea in a thermos I’d brought. They said there was no eating or drinking in the ER in case they had to do emergency surgery. This made me laugh a bit, knowing that I had just eaten 5,000 calories and drank half a gallon of seltzer and orange juice. The rest of the story is pretty run of the mill—a temporary cast, a couple days, a more-permanent cast and X-rays every two weeks to ensure healing is going well.

What does this mean for my mission?

I would be lying if I said I knew I’d be able to keep going the whole time. The reality is I thought this would be the end more than a couple times.

I was pretty sure I would still be able to ski, but I was already at my limit, skiing 10,000 feet per day and, with a broken hand, I just wasn’t sure I could do it.

Over the next week I eased into it. I started with a 3,000-foot day the day after the break. I was back up to 8,000 feet by the time I got my permanent cast. Over the next week I was cranking out 10,000-foot days like my hand was fine (OK, that may be a bit generous).

It has taken a bit more energy to keep my average at 10,000 feet, and it has dropped off to about 9,000 with the cast. But about two weeks after breaking my hand I hit half a million feet in the 52 days since January 1. This was a huge mental win and I knew that, while the cast was a hassle, it was only that—it wouldn’t be the end of my mission, but merely another hurdle to get over.

Aaron Rice charges on. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

Aaron Rice charges on. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

As Aaron Rice stacks up vertical all year long, he’ll be sharing his stories on BackcountryMagazine.com under the tag and title 2Point5Mil. Find more about Rice at airandrice.com or through his Instagram feed, @airandrice. You can also track his progress of monster touring days on Strava

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