COLORADO, USA — For a man used to climbing mountains, the steps are small right now.
"You wouldn’t think that walking 100 feet would be tiring, but it is," Will Toor joked as he made his way slowly around the gym area of the Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital.
Recovery is difficult. Yet Toor knows just how lucky he is to be alive. A day of mountaineering with his wife, Mariella Colvin, in Rocky Mountain National Park ended with broken bones and a helicopter flight to the hospital.
"I just remember the sense of acceleration and this very clear sense of ‘this is how it ends,'" Toor said. "I still can’t actually believe that it happened. It’s one of those things where there’s still a sense of unreality to it."
Toor, who is the Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office and the former mayor of Boulder, was finishing a climb up a narrow snow-packed couloir on July 10 when the snow gave out from underneath him. He estimates he and his wife fell around 1,000 feet before coming to rest at the bottom of the mountain.
Colvin hiked for more than a mile through difficult terrain to get help. At the time, they didn't know the injuries she had sustained were as serious as they were. With no cell phone service and no one else around, she made the trek while Toor lay in the snow with a broken femur.
"The next thing I remember is being at the bottom and my wife telling me, 'Will, I’ve got to leave you and go get help,'" Toor said. "Bushwhacking a mile and a half with nine broken ribs, three vertebrae fractures, a fractured sternum and a broken wrist."
Three climbers eventually found Toor in the snow and stayed as rescue crews climbed up to help. A helicopter from the National Guard was called in to evacuate him as Colvin made it to a campground nearby, where she got treatment too.
"When I saw those two guys walking up, that was definitely one of the best sights of my life," Toor said. "I am surprised by how much gratitude I feel. It could be so much worse. That sense of ‘what if only one of us had walked out alive?’ That would be like the worse experience of my life."
Toor said without the help of the hikers who stopped to call for help and all the rescue teams who responded, he doesn’t know if he would’ve survived.
Toor and Colvin are both recovering in the rehabilitation hospital now. Toor’s had one surgery already, and both should make a full recovery.
"I got colder and colder, and one again has the sense of, ‘I’m probably going to die here. I’m going into hypothermia.’" Toor said. "It sounds cliché, but right now my primary sense is one of, ‘damn, we were both so lucky and there were so many people who were pulling for us.’"
Now Toor hopes all his small steps today lead him back up the mountain soon.
"My hope is that I’ll be back in time for backcountry ski season," Toor joked.
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