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Executive Director Recovery Status

[Update. July 13, 3011: Rock & Ice Magazine did a great interview and article with Phil. It's got some good prevention tips as well.]

[Update. June 28, 2011: Today marks six weeks since my fall in Clear Creek Canyon. Erik Lambert and the AAC staff did a very good job keeping our website, blog and facebook pages current with updates on my health during the first couple of weeks after the accident. Since then my progress has not been marked by major milestones so there has not been much to report. As a result, you may have begun to wonder how I am doing. I apologize for keeping you at all in the dark.

So, from the beginning: The fall may have been from as high as 75 feet. It was low angle near the top and then very steep for the last 30-40 feet. I landed on my back and left side. My co-workers managed first aid (basically keeping me from moving and monitoring me) and immediately contacted EMS. A rather rigorous litter evacuation took about two hours and then I was transported by helicopter to St. Anthony's hospital in Denver. Over the next 48 hours various surgical teams corrected: a diaphragmatic tear (15cm) that allowed my stomach, spleen and intestines into my left lung cavity, collapsing the left lug; a broken left humorous and broke T12, L1 and L2 vertebrae which they fused. They did not correct a burst T6 and broken C6 vertebrae judging that these would heal best on their own. Ten broken ribs were also found.

As a benefit of my AAC membership, Global Rescue put the doctors at Johns Hopkins in touch with my doctors at St. Anthony's to provide second opinions on every procedure. This did not change any protocols but I must say that it gave my wife and family some confidence during a very stressful time.

After these surgeries, I remained sedated and on a ventilator for another few days. They took the breathing tube out on day 5, May 22. I took a few steps on the 24th and was released from ICU on the 28th. I can't say enough about the team at St. Anthony's.

Since coming home from the hospital on June 1st progress has not been momentous but it has been steady. My energy has improved steadily and I no longer take afternoon naps. I can take long walks and have begun basic lifting exercises (curls, lat pull-downs....). I am now down to well under half the prescribed painkiller dosage. I wear a neck brace 24 hours a day and a back brace while awake.

I came up to Jackson a little over a week ago and was able to make an appearance at the annual Skinny Skis/ Black Diamond season opening party. This is a great place to recover and I am surrounded by friends and family.

Next week I will return to Denver for follow up visits with Doctors. Hopefully I can get rid of the braces and begin to increase my range of motion and building some muscle. I have lost a surprising amount of weight.

It will take a little time for me to have the range of motion and energy for full time work and many more months for a full recovery. I don't yet know what a full recovery is but I have every intention of getting pretty darn close to where I was before.

As most of you know, Penn Burris has been serving the executive director role and Steve Matous (former executive director at the Access Fund) was brought on to handle some of Penn's workload. The staff have all been working hard and doing a great job. Our Five-year plan has served as an excellent road map for the staff. Each group has very specific goals and priorities.

Above all I can't thank the board, executive committee and Steve Swenson in particular for leaping into action. They have kept the Club moving forward on every front and that has given me great peace of mind when I have needed it most.

Feel free to communicate with me directly. As I mentioned, I am not back working. My energy is, however, improving with each passing day.]

[Update. June 14, 2011: Phil is focused on his recovery and making great progress. From Facebook, "Walked one mile today" and "Five pound curls...".]

[Update. June 1, 2011, 2:35 p.m.: Today, the Club would like to congratulate Phil on his release from the hospital. He is feeling as spry as is reasonable under the circumstances and focused on healing and the recovery process. Phil is headed home to spend some time with his family.]

[Update. May 28, 2011, 4:53 p.m.: Phil writes on his Facebook Wall: "I made out of the ICU today. Now in the regular ward. Everybody from my family to climbing partners to AAC members, rescue volunteers, surgeons and nurses have been amazing. But my wife, Sarah, has been over the top."]

[Update. May 25, 2011, 3:00 p.m.: Phil continues to make slow and steady progress and the need for daily updates has passed. We will update this site when major developments occur in Phil's recovery. In the meantime Phil and his family ask for your patience in giving them the space they need during this time. Well-wishers and concerned parties can send their words of support to the AAC either via email at getwellphil@americanalpineclub.org or via mail to American Alpine Club 710 10th St, Golden, CO 80401. The AAC will make sure that they get to the family.]

[Update. May 24, 2011, 2:20 p.m.: Phil continues to steadily make progress in his recovery. He remains in stable condition at the St. Anthony's Hospital intensive care ward in Denver, CO. In order to facilitate his recovery, the family is requesting no visitors at this time.]

[Update. May 23, 2011, 7:00 p.m.: Phil has made enormous progress in the last several days. He is breathing on his own, talking and—in typical Phil fashion—cracking jokes and making doctors, nurses, and hospital staff laugh and smile. He stood for the first time today. The recovery period will be lengthy, but all those in the TSICU at St. Anthony's Central are incredibly impressed with his indomitable strength and determination.

Phil Powers released the following statement today:

“My wife, Sarah, and our family are deeply grateful for everything that has been done to make sure I am receiving the best possible care. My thanks to all those at the site of the accident, including my staff, the emergency responders, the ambulance and helicopter crews, and those working so hard here in the hospital. I am indebted to you all, for my life. This is certainly one of my most challenging journeys, but I am confident of a full recovery.

“I also want to thank and eventually reach out to everyone who has prayed for us, emailed, called, and sent good wishes, food and thoughts to my family.

“I know many people want to come and visit, and I appreciate your concern. For now though, we ask for your patience and understanding. I am focused on healing and would like to get a little farther down that road before I start entertaining.

“All climbing accidents have causes, subtle and otherwise. This one is no different. It would be unfair to the rigorous investigation now underway to prematurely release reports or to posit theories about what happened before all the facts are known. Trust that I, like you, will be extremely interested in what is to be learned here, and I will be supplying you with information as it becomes available and understood.”]

[Update. May 22, 2011, 6:54 p.m.: Phil continues to steadily make progress in his recovery. He remains in stable condition at the St. Anthony's Hospital intensive care ward in Denver, CO. In order to facilitate his recovery, the family is requesting no visitors at this time.]

[Update. May21, 2011, 1:58 p.m.: Phil remains stable. The family requests that there be no visitors at present. No additional updates to report at this time.]

[Update. May 20, 2011, 3:15: Last night, doctors successfully performed surgery to fuse Powers' T-12, L-1, and L-2 vertebrae. Powers, 50, sustained injuries as the result of a climbing accident on May 17th. Powers has maintained feeling in and motion of his hands and feet throughout his recovery, and it appears that no spinal cord damage has occurred. Powers continues to make progress toward recovery. He is in stable condition at the ST. Anthony's Hospital intensive care ward in Denver, CO.]

[Update. May 19, 2011, 10:15 a.m.: Phil underwent surgery yesterday evening to fix his broken arm. The surgery went well and he is resting. The family requests that there be no visitors at present.]

May 19, 2011, Golden, CO—On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 17, American Alpine Club (AAC) Executive Director Phil Powers was injured in a climbing accident. He is presently in stable condition in the intensive care ward at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver, CO.

When the accident occurred, Powers was climbing with a group near AAC headquarters in Clear Creek Canyon’s Highwire area outside of Golden, CO. Clear Creek Canyon is a popular and accessible sport climbing crag on public land.

The area where the group was climbing is directly above the highway and river. The rock formation at the site of the accident is overhanging making direct sight contact difficult. Due to communication difficulties, there was confusion amongst the party over Powers’ method of descent which resulted in Powers falling approximately 50 feet to the ground.

Powers landed on dirt mainly on the left side of his seat and torso and suffered a brief loss of consciousness. His companions immediately assessed him and began implementation of wilderness first aid and rescue preparation. Golden, CO Fire Department responded quickly and began a complicated evacuation procedure.

After being stabilized at the accident site, Powers was lowered on a litter by the Golden Fire Department to the riverbed, hauled up to a waiting ambulance, then driven one mile down the canyon where he was transferred to a Flight for Life helicopter. He was flown to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver where he immediately underwent a successful surgery to repair a punctured diaphragm and address a collapsed lung. Powers sustained multiple injuries to his torso region in the fall: including a broken arm, fractured ribs and vertebras, a punctured diaphragm, a collapsed lung, and substantial internal bruising. Powers was not wearing a helmet, but it does not appear that he suffered any head injury.

The American Alpine Club is focused on Phil, his family, and his recovery and is asking that well-wishers and concerned parties send their words of support to the AAC either via email at getwellphil@americanalpineclub.org or via mail to American Alpine Club 710 10th St, Golden, CO 80401. The AAC will make sure that they get to the family.

No other information is currently available. As soon as any new information becomes available it will be shared and posted on this page. Please do not contact Phil’s family at this time as they are dealing with many details important to his recovery.

About Phil Powers:

Phil Powers joined the American Alpine Club as executive director in May of 2005. His previous experience in the non-profit world includes service as Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Naropa University and seventeen years with the National Outdoor Leadership School as Chief Mountaineering Instructor and Development/Partnerships Director. He remains an owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. Powers is author of Wilderness Mountaineering and Climbing: Expedition Planning. His essay, "The Importance of Pace", was aired on NPR's "This I Believe" in 2006. Powers has led dozens of expeditions to South America, Alaska and Pakistan's Karakoram Range, including ascents of K2 and Gasherbrum II without supplemental oxygen. He made the first ascent of the Washburn Face on Denali, naming it in recognition of the impact longtime AAC member Bradford Washburn's photos had in the planning and route research of many Alaska climbs. Powers also made the first ascent of Lukpilla Brakk's Western Edge in Pakistan, and the first winter traverse of the Tetons' Cathedral Peaks. He is an active climber and skier and lives with his wife and children in Denver, Colorado.

About the AAC:

The American Alpine Club is a 501-c(3) charitable organization dedicated to supporting American endeavors in mountain environments around the world. The AAC supports alpinists, rock climbers, ice climbers, boulderers, and mountaineers who are passionate about climbing, its community, its history, and conservation of the places we climb.

Together, through this collective passion and the AAC's programs, we inspire, create, partner, steward, and unite to have a stronger voice and lasting impact for future generations of climbers.