Hannah Schall describes the 40-plus-foot tumble off Horsetooth Rock like segments from a dream.
There are the fuzzy, fleeting memories of a friend trying to comfort her, rescuers working to secure her, and the rugged terrain acting against her. To be fair, what the 16-year-old Rocky Mountain High School junior experienced Aug. 18 would be blurry for anyone.
But as Schall regained consciousness and felt the crushing pain — her body crumpled on rocks just inches from a likely lethal 200-foot fall — she realized this hike would have lasting effects. Her summer vacation ended with a pelvis that was broken in multiple places, a mangled ankle, a broken nose, bruised lungs, and scrapes and gashes that made her almost unrecognizable.
Schall wouldn’t be here if not for an onslaught of first responders that day, she said.
“Can I express my gratitude in words? No. Words aren’t enough. No amount of them can say thank you enough to the people who saved me that day,” Hannah said Saturday.
Flanked by her parents and close friends, Schall addressed many of the 47 rescuers who helped get her out of the “sticky situation” that nearly took her life. Medical crews — including her Air Link flight team — firefighters, search and rescuers, park rangers, and law enforcement gathered at Poudre Fire Authority Station 4 in Fort Collins to meet the girl who, by statistical measures, could have been a backcountry fatality.
Rescuers said Schall and her story give them hope every day on the job.
Schall and a group of three friends had been looking forward to the early morning hike to what is arguably the most popular place to watch the sun rise over Fort Collins. Even though they didn’t make it to the top in time, they took in the warm rays and clear summer air before the first day of school.
“It was just a fun time with friends,” Schall said. “But little did we know.”
She laughed, and remembered exploring crevices on the rocky summit. A pole vaulter, rock climber and avid runner, Schall went to the state championship for pole vaulting her sophomore year. When she said she was “going to conquer” the rock, she meant it.
“Something just really little happened that just sent me backwards over the edge,” she said, describing jumping to a downward-sloping face, hitting some gravel and tumbling down.
She awoke to the crushing pain. Everywhere.
“I finally realized that whatever was happening wasn’t a dream,” she said. “It’s real.”
Her friends immediately called 911. Then they called Hannah’s parents, Heather and Jim Schall. The couple’s 35th wedding anniversary was that day, and they were drinking coffee at the table when they learned that a helicopter had been called to take their daughter to the hospital.
They were at the trailhead within minutes and said it was hard to find a parking spot due to the number of emergency crews that had already arrived.
Meanwhile, Hannah Schall was the subject of an hourslong rescue effort that tested even the most seasoned first responders. Among their challenges was securing the teen and hoisting her with ropes up the west side of the local landmark with a Poudre Valley Hospital Special Operations medic at her side the whole time. Then, they had to get her down the other side and carry her to the helicopter landing zone.
Someone gave her sunglasses, she remembered.
“I tell them jokingly I had glasses on before I fell, but I don’t know where they got off to,” she quipped.
Laughter was a big part of the rescue, and she remembers working to make her rescuers laugh.
As for her first helicopter ride?
“All I remember are two nurses’ faces and the sky,” she said.
Schall spent 11 days in the hospital. Hospital room photos show her giving a thumbs-up, trying to smile and relearning to walk. The welcome home signs were significant, as was getting the neck brace off and getting back to normal 16-year-old things.
She bounded across the fire engine bay to grab a piece of paper Saturday, and the room of medical professionals and rescuers watched — some in awe — that she was already back to running. Not just jogging — running. The pole vaulter is in preseason training mode for track and field, and she’s been practicing her soccer skills.
“This was truly a series of miracles, and God was a part of every step of the way,” Heather Schall said. “All of the people that really saved her life that day, we want it to be about them.”
PFA Chief Tom DeMint thanked the room full of rescuers and compared the four-dozen people working together to a wristwatch dependent on many moving parts.
“Whatever your role may have been, it was essential that each piece of that watch was there,” he said. “Everybody that came together made that watch tick.”
Schall can rattle off the laundry list of her injuries with ease. She’s had practice during the past 12 weeks. And as for climbing? She’s eager to get back up to Horsetooth Rock to revisit that ledge.
“It’s not going to stop me from going hiking,” she said. “I still have a whole life in front of me that I get to appreciate just that much more.”
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