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Ryan’s extraordinary story of endurance and survival began with a weekend climbing trip, and ended in a fight against death.
Ryan texted Dave, his dad, to tell him he was going on a two-day climb of Pyramid Peak in the Elks Range near Aspen, Colorado. He told Dave his return time was 8 p.m. that Sunday – if he wasn’t back by then, something had gone wrong. By 7 that evening, Dave says, “I was starting to get a little concerned because he always comes back hours before that time he gives.” His roommates hadn’t heard from him either. “I got a sinking feeling in my stomach,” says Dave’s mother, LaShawn, “Because he is never late.”
The sheriff’s office said it was too dark to start a search that evening. The next day, search and rescue teams went out, “But they couldn’t send out a full-fledged team because this blizzard had come in.” LaShawn and Dave immediately headed to Aspen to be on hand when Ryan was found.
“By Tuesday morning, we were a wreck,” Dave says. At this point, Ryan had spent two nights out in the bitter cold, with temperatures around four degrees. “When I heard they had found the snow cave with his gear in it, I just lost it,” admits LaShawn. “It seemed to me he had to be dead.”
But Ryan had survived! Now he tells the story of his fight for life. He was traveling solo and knew a big storm was blowing in on Sunday afternoon, but “That’s why I was shooting for an early-morning summit, to avoid the big storm,” he says. He spent the night camping near the summit, then headed for the peak early that morning – he was 40 or 50 feet from the top.
“And then all of a sudden, it was all going to hell,” he says. Something collapsed beneath his feet and Ryan was plunging down among the steep drop-offs. “I thought inevitably I would die,” he says. “That was a pretty low moment.” After falling 1,500 to 2,000 feet, he was able to stop himself – he was alive, but severely injured. “My leg was just destroyed. My elbow was out of its socket. My helmet had a large break in it. I was spitting blood out into the snow.”
Ryan had a large snow shovel, but his phone died and he had lost one glove. His pants were soaked with icy water. “I sat on my shovel and kind of used it as a rudder and a brake to start scooting my way back down,” he explains. He knew he would die of exposure if he didn’t get off the mountain.
“If there’s anybody that can survive being out there, Ryan could,” says his dad. But by Tuesday morning, survival began to seem impossible to his waiting parents.
After six grueling hours, Ryan found the trail and he spent three more hours walking down the mountain before he heard someone shouting. “At 4:20 we got a call, and Dave said ‘He’s alive!’,” says LaShawn.
“There was no way that I wasn’t going to get again and see my family again,” concludes Ryan.
ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork greets Ryan and his parents. “When you say you fell 1,500-plus feet, that’s taller than the Empire State Building,” Dr. Stork notes. “Granted, that wasn’t a complete drop. But if you look at the mountain – 1,500 feet down THAT mountain is pretty remarkable. The Aspen coroner said that in 20 years, there had been not survivors that had taken a fall similar to that. So you really are a miracle!”
Ryan suffered frostbite to his right hand and was treated at by Dr. Anne Wagner at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital but is recovering well. His elbow, however, is still swollen and has limited motion. “Being a rock climber I’m concerned,” says Ryan. “I definitely want to get back to full strength so I can get back out there and not make it more dangerous by being injured.” Dr. Stork laughs, “Typical climber!”
Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Ryan Dellamaggiora examined Ryan’s elbow. “With the brace, he has now and physical therapy, I think we can get him back to almost full motion,” he says. “I won’t make any promises, but good motion – quicker and better than with surgery.”
Ryan says he determined to climb Pyramid Peak – and this time, to make it to the top! “You can’t always predict what happens in nature,” says Dr. Stork. “This is clearly something you love.” And to make it easier for Ryan to climb again, the North Face is donating $2,500 worth of gear to replace what he lost on the mountain.
And that’s not all! Wellness Expert A.D. Dolphin, the CEO of DHerbs.com, presents Ryan with a $5,000 check to help cover his medical expenses! And DHerbs.com is also making a grant of $5,000 to Mountain Rescue Aspen, the organization that launched Ryan’s rescue team.
Dr. Stork asks Ryan to send The Doctors a follow-up picture -- from the top of Pyramid Peak.