Each of Greg McKee’s ten digits were intact last Wednesday as the 24-year-old engineer from Salt Lake City entered the final moves on Utah’s classic Indian Creek layback fingertips crack, Fingers in a Light Socket (5.11+).
But with his left hand locked in a pin scar over the lip, McKee’s feet lost purchase, sending him earthward — well, not all of him. When McKee reached the end of the rope (which happened after his top piece, a small cam, blew out of the sandstone) he was dousing his shoes, his belayer and the base of the climb in blood.
Must have been a bomber lock because still stuck in the pin scar was the first digit of McKee’s left ring-finger. “My feet slipped, my right hand popped out, and the fact that the left hand is up over an edge made it a really solid lock,” he told me.
After being lowered, McKee’s friends helped him wrap his wound in a “nasty, sweaty bandana.” He swallowed a few Tylenol, and drove himself to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo.
“On the hike back to the car, I thought I was going to throw up,” he said.
After x-rays, surgeons told him he had just an hour to decide if he wanted to keep the small nub that remained attached to the middle phalange of his finger. Channeling Tommy Caldwell, the elite climber who famously sawed off the end of his index finger in a carpentry accident, McKee opted to take the finger down to the joint. (McKee’s pinky finger was battered and bruised but otherwise intact.)
“My decision was based on what will make my finger the strongest for climbing,” he said. “My finger’s not coming back so I’m just going to own it. No regrets.”
In just two weeks, he can begin using it again, and rest assured, McKee is psyched to return to climbing. His first project? You guessed it. “I really want to do that climb again. Next to the chains is this perfect handjam. I’d love to be up there and fire my hand in that last jam, so triumphant.”
As for the climb, along with a small cam (that he would like returned, please!) McKee’s digit, and a liberal sprinkling of blood are a part of it now.
“It’s pretty gross. You could sling it like a chockstone,” he said.
No questioning his commitment: he left a piece of himself up there.