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‘Old Bob’ the toughest guy I’ve ever known

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POSTED July 8, 2010 2:15 a.m.
Growing up as an outdoor addict is, for the most part, a wonderful experience if you survive it.

There are vistas so magnificent they take your breath away, and awesome mountain vistas and ocean sunsets with colors that defy description.

There are fascinating wild critters, leaping fish, and old mining ruins that make you wonder at the ingenuity of their makers. Sometimes, however, there is an admission price to partake of all these treasures.

The view from a mountain peak must usually be earned by quarts of sweat and aching feet, while that secret fishing hole is often guarded by poison oak and lurking rattlers.

As youngsters, we were entertained by campfire stories of legendary outdoorsmen whose strength, stamina and courage were almost god-like.

We all heard of how Snowshoe Thompson spent an entire night dancing on a rock to keep from freezing to death and how the Pony Express riders would brave blazing heat, blizzards and Indian attacks and still deliver the mail.

As youngsters, we were determined that we too, would be just as tough as our outdoor heroes. It’s a miracle that most of us survived childhood and puberty.

There were plenty of incidents where we darned near killed ourselves, and I’m sure our mothers truly earned those grey hairs they all got.

When his companion made an errant throw at a bullfrog and got Larry in the calf instead, he had to go to the hospital and get a tetanus shot. Pete was fooling around with a switchblade and somehow managed flip it open and put the point through his eye.  

Mike broke his hand against a car window while taking a swing at a fellow who had somehow offended him and Cousin Wayne got bit in the hand by a rattler out in the Mojave Desert.  

I managed to get gut shot by a ricochet, clawed by an Osprey, and knocked cold falling out of a tram car. I’m pretty sure that the word “stupid” is part of the definition of “teenager”.

Even worse than our childhood stupidity was the part of the adolescent code that required us to tough it out & try to pretend it didn’t really bother us.  It didn’t matter if you got cut, shot, bit, clawed, or burned, the accepted protocol was to grit your teeth and pretend it didn’t hurt.

Being tough is really important when you’re young and stupid.  We all considered ourselves some pretty tough hombres.  I used to think I was pretty tough until I ran into Bob. That’s when I found out what tough really meant.

At first glance, old Bob didn’t project an aura of toughness.  He wasn’t a huge guy or all muscle bound. He was a nice, easy-going guy of medium build with a wiry kind of body.

He was in great shape and always hiking, bicycling or mountain climbing. I think his body fat was right around 6 percent.

He had amazing stamina and could walk all day without collapsing.  So what was it about Bob that made him so tough?

Let me share an amazing incident with you.

If you are squeamish, you might want to stop reading right now, because it’s not pretty to even read about. If you’ve got as strong stomach and want to know about the toughest guy I ever knew, read on.

Among Bob’s many outdoor pastimes, was mountain climbing, more specifically, ice climbing. He especially enjoyed climbing snow cornices with the aid of an ice axe and climbing ropes.

One of the most basic safety rules in ice climbing is that you never climb alone; you always climb with a partner so that you can help each other out in tight spots.

One weekend, Bob had made plans to go climbing with a buddy, and at the last minute his partner dropped out. Even though he knew better, Bob decided to climb alone. He drove up into the high mountains about 30 or 40 miles past the town of Sonora, parked his car and walked another 6 or 7 miles through the snow to the cornice he planned to climb.

He climbed higher and higher until he was on a steep cornice just above a precipice falling away to the valley below.

Suddenly, a patch of rotten snow collapsed beneath him, and Bob began to slide toward the precipice — and certain death. He had one last chance to slam his ice axe into the snow as deep as he could and hang on for dear life.

SLAM!

Bob smashed his climbing axe into the ice, and prayed it would stop his slide. The good news was that he stopped sliding; the bad news was that he had also impaled his scrotum with the ice axe!  

“Omigod! Then what did you do?” I asked.  

 Bob then took a big flannel shirt and used some climbing rope to cinch it as tight in his crotch as possible to stop the bleeding. Then he walked 7 miles through the snow to his car, and drove 40 miles to the hospital where they treated him.

Now that’s one tough hombre. Old Bob was the toughest guy I ever knew.
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