Route: Goldfinger (5.11d, 3p)   

TR #: 448

Category: Colorado       Summit Elev: 12,660 ft (summit of Arrowhead, route ends lower)        Rock Type: Granite

Partner: Nate Arganbright

Three great pitches up an aesthetic crack system on the east end of Arrowhead.    



Goldfinger climbs three great pitches up an aesthetic crack system up a wide buttress on the east end of Arrowhead. This route was put up in 1998 by Doug Byerly and Kath Pyke. 

Nate and I climbed Goldfnger as the second of two climbs on an overnight into the spectacular McHenrys basin nestled under the East Face of McHenrys and the South Face of Arrowhead. On Saturday we climbed Dream of Babylon Burning (5.11a, 7p) on McHenrys Peak, spent the rest of the day reading/studying/relaxing at our bivy, and climbed Goldfinger on Arrowhead on Sunday. 

Unfortunately, just moments after starting the descent from the summit of Arrowhead, while jumping from one boulder to the next, my knee buckled underneath me and it sounded as if a small explosion went off in my knee....$#!&.... I was airlifted out the next morning. 

The following page is broken into two sections. First, a trip report for the climb of Goldfinger. Second, an accident report for my knee explosion and subsequent airlift is included at the end of this page.


Goldfinger (5.11d, 3p)


Bivy in McHenrys basin to base of route: 23 minutes
Climb route: 2 hours 20 minutes
Descent to bivy (crawling, lowering, more crawling....): 3 hours 25 minutes (usually takes less than an hour)



Photo descriptions:
Begin from a grassy ledge below the route.

1. Our bivy in McHenrys basin. From here the base of the route was a mere 20 minutes romp.
2. A nice morning.
3. Approaching the base of the route.

5.11a, 200'. Left-facing dihedral to a splitter flared hand crack.
4. Nate leading the first pitch.
5. Nate at the splitter.
6. Taken while following.
7. Enjoying the splitter flared hand crack.

5.10a, 100'. Climb chickenheads just left of an arching corner with a sealed crack (RPs handy), and climb up to a nice ledge below the third pitch.
8. Looking up into a sea of chickenheads. I started up the corner on the right and then busted left onto the chickenheads after placing a couple of RPs.
9. The second half of the pitch.

5.11d, 200'. Climb the right-angling thin crack, then climb right through a roof, then to the top of the buttress.  Great climbing.
10. Looking up Pitch 3.
11. Nate cruising up the pitch.

The route ends at the top of a buttress to the east of the summit. You can easily scramble to the summit.
12. On top of the route.
13. Looking towards the summit from the top of the route.

Scramble down the South Ramp (4th) or continue up and over the summit to the rappel route (described in more detail in previous trip reports).

14. View from the summit looking down the descent ridge.
15. Less than a minute after I stepped off the summit, while jumping from one boulder to the next, my knee buckled underneath me and it sounded as if a small explosion went off in my knee....$#!& the accident report below for details.


Exploded Knee + Helicopter Rescue


Less than a minute after I stepped off the summit, while jumping from one boulder to the next, my knee buckled underneath me and it sounded as if a small explosion went off in my knee....$#!&....

I tried to stand up, but my knee buckled and a wave of excruciating pain shot through my leg. It was pretty clear that my knee would not support my weight. Nate and I had to make a decision: Do we try to self-rescue (which would involve me crawling a couple of miles of quite rugged terrain to the trail and then Nate piggy-backing me out from there) or do we call the Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue team while we still had cell service? The summit of Arrowhead gets a bit of cell service (Verizon at least) and ever since my life-(or at least leg-)saving phone call for a serious tib/fib injury in 2010, I always bring my phone on a climb. Both Nate and I lean towards self-rescue if possible. I tried to stand up again, and again my leg buckled and and I yelped in pain. Okay, maybe I was less ambulatory than I thought. We decided to make the call to SAR. We wrapped my leg in my small climbing pack to attempt to stabilize it. I began to sideways crawl and butt-scoot along the summit ridge towards the rappel route while Nate passed on the necessary details to the SAR team (i.e. my status, our plan to self-rescue to upper McHenrys basin, and the approximate location of our bivy site there). What is normally a casual 10-15 minute romp from the summit to the top of the rap route became a rather butt-bruising 2 hour scoot. Once we arrived at the rappels, Nate lowered me while I used my good leg and two hands to keep my knee from hitting the rock. From the base of the two rappels Nate belayed me for another rope length while I butt-scooted down the steep granite slabs towards the bivy cave where we had stayed the night before. The entire descent from the summit, which typically would have taken under an hour, took just over 3 hours (which actually isn't too bad considering the circumstances). We re-established ourselves at our bivy site and waited for the SAR team to arrive. I wolfed down a handful of expired pain meds and tried to study some math and Nate tried to read a book. The 3-person ground SAR team arrived a few hours later. The medic assessed my condition and splinted my knee, and then the team assessed the best means to get me out. The main means of rescue in RMNP are foot, horse, helicopter land and load, and helicopter hoist. Due to the rugged location and my non-ambulatory status, the SAR team deemed it best to request assistance from a Colorado National Guard helicopter from Buckley Air Force Base to extricate me via a hoist operation, using a winch operated cable. It was too late in the day for the chopper to come that evening, so we all settled in for the night. The Blackhawk chopper arrived as scheduled the next morning at 8:00am for their first recon loop. They had to make two attempts to successfully lower a rescue personnel, who strapped me into a screamer suit, grabbed the swinging 100-foot cable, clipped us both in along with my pack, and signaled the chopper to begin winching us up as it flew off. Eight minutes later we touched down at Upper Beaver Meadows. Nate had hiked out early and was there to meet us. Part of the reason for this was to avoid the costly unnecessary ambulance ride, but the best part was seeing a familiar and friendly face. I made some calls to my insurance company to make sure the Estes Park Hospital was in-network, and after confirming it was, Nate dropped me off at the ER for the day, telling me to call him when I was ready to be picked up. I couldn't ask for a better friend and climbing partner.

Once more, I want to express my gratitude to the Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue Team, the Colorado National Guard helicopter team, and most especially to Nate for executing this rescue with efficiency, precision, and compassion. 


Hurt knee near summit: 12:05 pm, Thursday, August 20
Phone call to SAR: 12:25 pm
Top of rappels: 2:03 pm
Back at Bivy: 3:20 pm
SAR arrives: 6:48 pm
Helicopter pick-up: 8:23 am, Friday, August 21
Upper Beaver Meadows: 8:31 am
Estes Park Hospital: 11:20 am


The ER at the Estes Park Hospital was characteristically empty when I arrived, and a nurse rushed to meet me with a wheelchair as soon as she saw me hop out of Nate's truck. I spent the next several hours filling out forms, being prodded, getting x-rays and an MRI, talking with the attending ER doctor, scheduling some surgeries, and texting my parents in the interim periods. The news was not good (red highlights are the main ones requiring surgery and long-term recovery):
  1. Fracture of the posterior aspect of the lateral tibial plateau, predominantly a nonarticular cortical depression fracture, but there is also an osterchondral component involving the posterior articular surface.
  2. Cartilage defect (approximately 12x4 mm) within the posterior lateral tibial plateau at the osterochondral fracture site.
  3. Torn proximal ACL.
  4. MCL and FCL sprains. No high-grade tear identified.
  5. Large, displaced bucket-handle tear of the lateral meniscus with the handle displaced into the intercondylar notch, slightly greater anteriorly.
  6. Vertical longitudinal tear of the peripheral posterior horn of the medial meniscus (ramp lesion).
  7. Large hemarthrosis with posterior capsular tear and extensive hemorrhage and edema within the popliteal fossa.
  8. Bone contusion of the anterior aspect o the tibial plateau involving the medial and lateral aspect and a smaller bone contusion of the posterior medial tibial plateau. Small osterochondral impaction fracture of the anterolateral femoral condyle at the condylopatellar sulcus and bone contusion of the upper peripheral lateral femoral condyle.
  9. High-grade partial thickness tear of the mid substance of the quadriceps tendon at its patellar insertion measuring approximately 13 mm in length. The peripheral fibers, lateral greater than medial, are intact. (Note: This quadriceps tendon damage was likely a pre-existing and healing overuse injury I had developed the previous year from too much running.)
Well, that was why I couldn't walk. Seems like my knee basically exploded inside me. I'm pretty appalled at the level of damage from what had seemed to be a benign jump from one boulder to another, but it seems most likely to me that I had a torn ACL already, from 7 years previous when I had popped through into a crevasse, torqued my knee into such an unnatural position and heard/felt a pop, and proceeded to pay an ortho specialist $300 to tell me I just had a sprain; it was the (probably already torn) ACL that gave out first and then as my weight continued to come down on my knee the rest was just a cascade of snaps and tears. Needless to say, I am in for a long haul recovery....again...


I created a separate page for a "Recovery Trip Report" which will be kept updated over the course of the next year until I get back to climbing again.


Photos from the successful evacuation below. 

Photo descriptions:

Evacuation photos

20 & 21

1. We wrapped my leg in a pack and I crawled from the summit to first rappel anchor.
2. We set my hot pink rope on a boulder to help the Search and Rescue Team find us.
3. I tried to study a bit as we waited for SAR to arrive.
4. The ground SAR team.
5. Split and rope.
6. The ground SAR team.
7. Making radio contact with the helicopter.
8. The view of Chiefs Head must be amazing.
9. Blackhawk helicopter.
10-22. The hoist.
23. Safe in the chopper.
24. In the hospital filling out some paperwork....getting ready for some bad news....