Although it happened Sept. 24, 2005, JoAnna Ingram remembers it like it was yesterday.
Ingram was free climbing down a cliff at Christine Falls in Mount Rainier National Park, Packwood, Wash., when she lost her footing and fell 35 feet.
“I remember every little detail,” said Ingram, now an administrative assistant for the Armor School commandant. “For about six months, every time I closed my eyes, I felt like I was falling again. It wasn’t every time I fell asleep — it was every time I closed my eyes, I was reliving the moment.”
When Ingram fell, she said, her climbing partner, Anthony Santi, hurried to reach her, leading to his own fall. Realizing they had no cell phone service and no one knew where they were, the two privates first class yelled for help, but no one could hear them.
“When it started to get dark, we started to be quiet,” Ingram said. “There are a lot of cougar warnings on Mount Rainier. They love disabled animals, and that’s what we would’ve sounded like. It got down to 19 degrees that night.”
The two eventually were rescued after Santi, despite broken bones in his feet and ankles, crawled about 300 meters down the river to a position where he could flag down a truck, she said. He had severe frostbite and both were in hypovolemic shock.
Now Ingram stresses the importance of safety, especially when it comes to extreme sports.“Some things you can’t predict. The root I put my foot in — I remember the specific spot … I had tested it before I put my foot in there, and it seemed like it was fine,” she said. “I think what had happened mostly is I got a little too cocky. I was sure I wasn’t going to fall because I had been climbing for about 13 years and never fell. If you climb long enough, you’re going to fall.”
Wiser for the experience, Ingram understands the desire to seek out thrills but she tempers it with a word of caution.
“Think about it beforehand because when and if it happens, you’re not going to be thinking straight. You want the plan in your head already,” she said. “We both kept a pretty positive attitude, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Don’t panic. Don’t ever believe you’re defeated.”After a year and a half on crutches, Ingram’s two broken knees, cracked hip and broken femur healed enough that she could walk, but she would never run again.
“I’d climbed hundreds of feet. I never used gear,” she said. “It’s exciting: it’s overcoming a challenge; it’s pushing yourself to the limit. A lot of times it’s pretty intense. (But) you have to be careful how far you decide to push yourself. Make sure somebody knows where you are. Because no matter how good you are or how smart you are or how experienced you are, it can happen.”
Where can I climb? The climbing wall at Smith Fitness Center