By: Grace Hatton, Editor-In-Chief
After falling nearly forty feet during a rock climbing expedition at Short Off Mountain in Linville Gorge, Warren Wilson alumnus (’13) Jackson DePew found himself face down on a ledge, about 200 feet above the ground, being stirred to consciousness by his ringing cell phone. His climbing partner, who had been belaying him, was calling to see if he was okay. DePew’s response “Oh nothin’, just hanging here.”
DePew began his rock climbing career on the Daddy, also in Linville Gorge, about six years ago, and he began his institutional climbing career three years later, when he took the Top Rope Site Management course here at Warren Wilson. DePew graduated from Wilson in May 2013 as an Outdoor Leadership Major and has been working as a professional climbing instructor. He currently resides in Black Mountain.
DePew’s fall from Short Off Mountain, which happened back in March, happened when a hand hold that he was using broke off from the rock. “I was leading the third pitch on Maginot line on Short Off Mountain,” says DePew “I found myself a tad off route, judging by the copious amount of dried overgrown lichen on the rock, and was using a hand hold to stretch my arm out to see where the route was going. I’m pretty sure that hold broke off on me, and that’s when I fell. I was around 15-20 feet above my last piece of protection, which means I flew for about 40 feet. However, there were a few ledges in the way – which was what caused my injuries. I fell for about 20 feet and then hit a ledge, fell for a few more feet and hit another, then tumbled unconscious down the rest of the way.”
]DePew fractured his pelvis in five places and his sacrum in two, broke three ribs, and suffered from a collapsed lung, a concussion and a condition called pneumothorax (an abnormal collection of air or gas in the pleural space that separates the lung from the chest wall). In order to be removed safely from the ledge, DePew had to be airlifted out by a helicopter that was dispatched from an Army National Guard unit in Rowan county. However, during his five hour waiting period between falling and being airlifted out, DePew took some “selfies” on his phone that later made quite an impression on Wilson students and alumni on social media sites such as Facebook. DePew says he took the selfies to make sure all his limbs were in the right position.
“Obviously, the occasion called for a selfie,” says DePew. “But honestly though, I really just wanted to see if I still had legs, or if my face was where my face usually is.” In order for DePew to be removed from the ledge safely, one rescuer rappelled down the mountainside while another came down from the helicopter to reach DePew, who was then lifted into the helicopter.
For the past couple of months, DePew has been going through physical therapy and has two weeks left in his treatment.
“I should be walking around like a regular ol’ human being again soon,” says DePew, and he has every intention to start climbing again as soon as he is physically and mentally able. “When I climb, I feel like I’m doing what I am supposed to,” says DePew. “Eating lunch 300 feet above the ground on the side of a cliff is my favorite way to munch.”
DePew is extremely grateful for all the love and support he’s received from his network of friends during his period of recovery and is managing to see the humor in the situation. “The funny thing is, I was talking about how cool it would be to get a black hawk helicopter ride out of the gorge, as we were approaching the climb,” says DePew “It’s pretty much the most ironic thing ever.”