Climbing Out of the Fog


By Hillary Oliver | Outdoor Research

When Gaby James woke up in the hospital, she lay suspended in a fog of confusion. It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t remember what happened—she’d fallen while lead climbing and flipped upside down, smashing her head against the rock and sustaining about 30 skull fractures and a brain hemorrhage below where her helmet covered—it was that she couldn’t seem to think or focus or process anything. Her body and mind basically shut off and she slept for about 23 hours a day for the next few weeks. With the rest, her brain began to heal and slowly her memory, vision, motor skills and comprehension started to come back. And within a few weeks, she put aside the brain teaser apps on her phone in favor of a much more immediate challenge—getting back on the rock.


While jumping back into climbing certainly had its risks, the rewards have been life-affirming for Gaby. And, if anything, she says it’s confirmed she’s on exactly the right path in life.

We learn a little more about Gaby through her responses to a recent interview.

Question: What has been your greatest fear during your recovery process?

Answer: My greatest fear thus far has been physically hitting my head again. I know I’m pushing myself by climbing so soon, but at the same time I don’t believe I’m doing myself any favors by avoiding any activity where I could possibly hit my head.

Question: What is it about climbing that seems to be speeding your recovery?

There’s a feeling each climber gets. I don’t believe it has a name because it’s a different sensation for everyone. It’s the feeling we each felt when we first fell in love with climbing and a feeling we chase in times when we are not climbing. Something shifts in the moment, the way I think becomes more controlled and efficient. I move with more emphasis and dedication with each clip. I knew that only climbing could help me deal with the aftermath and side effects of this injury.


Hilary Oliver is a freelance writer and creator of She loves climbing, biking, and writing about climbing and biking. He work has appeared on Adventure Journal, The Dirtbag Diaries, Feehub Magazine, Women’s Adventure, The Clymb, Women’s Movement, and several other publications and websites. If she’s not on the trail or up a rock, you can probably find her typing away on her laptop, hopefully within close proximity to strong coffee and hot breakfast burritos.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *