Climber Spotlight: Alyse Dietel

This week we hear from Arizona climber and artist, Alyse Dietel. After surviving a 60-foot fall, Alyse made a full recovery and now climbs harder than she did before her accident.


Slap My Fro
Slap my Fro (5.12b), Winslow Wall AZ; Photo: Blake McCord

Since I can remember, my parents were taking me hiking and camping (my first time on top of Half [Dome] was at 7 months old!). I was always up a tree or rock to the point where my mom would just say

if you can’t find Alyse, look up

to horrified soccer coaches and elementary school teachers. Finally I went to a birthday party at the local climbing gym, and my refusal to stop climbing prompted the gym owner to ask me to join the climbing team.

So my secret is out, I started out as a gym rat and comp climber. To be fair, southern California is a bit lacking in outdoor crags. I competed nationally for eight years before coming up to northern Arizona for college.

 

Related: Outdoor Climbing vs. Indoor Climbing and Why it Doesn’t Matter

Sedona climbing
Wild Wild West (5.10+), Sedona, AZ; Photo: Tim Keyt

Two weeks after coming up to Flagstaff for college, my boyfriend at the time and I were climbing at the local crag called the Pit. When it got dark, we hiked up and around to the top of the cliffs, which seemed way more fun than doing homework.

It got a little less fun when the section of the cliff that I was standing on broke away under my feet and I plummeted a good 60 or so feet to a small ledge (about an inch from a cactus … ). I ended up having to rappel another 20 feet down to the trailhead and be carried out of the Pit. I had two broken vertebrae, a snapped tailbone, broken ribs, a shattered pelvis, a partially collapsed lung, a smashed kidney, and a fractured ankle.

Alyse Dietel

I spent two agonizing weeks in the hospital

before having to withdraw from my first college semester and go home in a wheelchair. I called my mom from the ICU and, unfortunately, because I was so drugged up I thought the best thing to say was

ma! I’m on a lotta morphine!

before handing the phone to my doctor. Most of my time in the hospital was spent in and out of a drug-induced sleep, throwing up, calling both of my nurses Sharenkaren (I thought they looked identical … they really didn’t), and apparently crying when the doctor brought me jello. I have a weird fear of jello … nothing edible should jiggle like that.

When I got home, I was absolutely set on getting out of my wheelchair. Under my doctor’s nose, I did the exercises I learned in physical therapy every minute of every day. When I had nightmares about falling every night and became an insomniac, I did the exercises at night too.

Elephant Queen
“Elephant Queen” by Alyse Dietel

I finally was able to stand up after about 5 months, and was soon dragging myself around on crutches. At about 7 months, I hobbled to my local gym and took an hour to climb a “5.fun.” That was probably the proudest send of my life. I also got really into my art, which served as an outlet for all my frustration, pain, determination, and impatience.

 

Related: Artist Feature: Elle Rae Bryce

 

The biggest thing that my accident made me realize wasn’t necessarily that life is fragile or that you only get one life or whatever … I feel like I already knew that. What really hit home for me was that life doesn’t care about your excuses. You’re not going to get out of that wheel chair, or climb that one route, or eat that whole pizza by just sitting around and expecting it to just happen eventually.

Things like success and willpower and determination don’t get handed to you. If you want something, you’d better get off your butt and go get it. I worked harder than I’ve ever worked for anything to get out of that wheelchair, and it happened because I didn’t make excuses and didn’t say

I will tomorrow.

I just did it. So just do it (why am I not sponsored by Nike?). The only person who gets to decide is you. You are in control. You get to choose.

The Pit, Flagstaff
No Joke (5.13b), The Pit, Flagstaff, AZ

Something that I say all the time to everyone is:

There is no place for your ego in climbing. None. Climbing is about having fun, challenging yourself, finding adventure, and being safe.

So what if you’re climbing 5.6 on toprope? I’ll be the first to say hell yeah, get it! If you ever find yourself, as a new climber, climbing with someone who rags on you for the grade you’re climbing, or pressures you to lead, or fall, or makes fun of your helmet, DO NOT climb with that person. Seriously, find a new partner. And send the old one to me so I can teach them a lesson about ego.

You seriously rock for taking up this awesome sport and I hope you know that you are welcome with open arms into the amazing climbing community, no matter what level you’re at. Also, please wear a helmet and be safe. Seriously. Check your knot. Check your belayer. If you’re not comfortable with something or feel uneasy, don’t do it. And if anyone gives you a hard time, tell them Alyse said to shut the hell up.

 

Related: What’s in a Grade?: How to Approach Climbing Difficulty

Oak Creek, AZ
Heart and Soul (5.11+), Oak Creek, AZ; Photo: Blake McCord
Indian Creek, UT
Coyne Crack (5.11+), Indian Creek, UT; Photo: Tim Keyt

Lately I’ve been ridiculously stoked on trad.

I’ve been a sport climber for about 14 years and thought a Camalot was King Arthur’s castle. One trip to Joshua Tree with my amazing boyfriend and I was hooked.

I’m so excited for the doors that trad opens up and have my eye on a few hard multipitch routes in Zion and Yosemite, where I will be going this summer. I’m also really excited to begin the journey of becoming a guide, as my happy place is introducing people to this incredible sport.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey, including Evolv, Backcountry Ninjas, Bouldering Babes, and of course all my awesome followers on Instagram. I’m a little overwhelmed and baffled by all the love from the climbing community, and I truly hope that one day I’ll find a way to pay it back.

To learn more about Alyse and her amazing story of recovery, watch this video:

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