Mud, Sweat, and Tears: Bear Grylls on His Many Dances With Death
The adventurer and television personality has come face to face with tigers, snakes, crocodiles, and more. He's been hospitalized more times than he can count. But he wouldn't give it up for anything.
The air temperature is -20 degrees. I wiggle my fingers but they’re still freezing cold. Old frostnip injuries never let you forget. I blame Everest for that.
“You set, buddy?” cameraman Simon asks me, smiling. His rig is all prepped and ready.
I smile back. I am unusually nervous. Something doesn’t quite feel right. But I don’t listen to the inner voice. It is time to go to work.
The crew tell me that the crisp northern Canadian Rockies look spectacular this morning. I don’t really notice.
It is time to get into my secret space. A rare part of me that is focused, clear, brave, precise. It is the part of me I know the best but visit the least.
I only like to use it sparingly. Like now.
Beneath me is 300 feet of steep snow and ice. Steep but manageable.
I have done this sort of fast descent many, many times. Never be complacent, the voice says. The voice is always right.
A last deep breath. A look to Simon. A silent acknowledgment back.
Yet we have cut a vital corner. I know it. But I do nothing.
I am instantly taken by the speed. Normally I love it. This time I am worried. I never feel worried in the moment. I know something is wrong.
I am soon traveling at over 40 mph. Feet first down the mountain. The ice races past only inches from my head. This is my world.
I gain even more speed. The edge of the peak gets closer. Time to arrest the fall.
I flip nimbly onto my front and drive the ice axe into the snow. A cloud of white spray and ice soars into the air. I can feel the rapid deceleration as I grind the axe deep into the mountain with all my power. It works like it always does. Like clockwork. Total confidence. One of those rare moments of lucidity. It is fleeting. Then it is gone. I am now static.
The world hangs still. Then—bang.
Simon, his heavy wooden sled, plus solid metal camera housing, piles straight into my left thigh. He is doing in excess of 45 mph.
There is an instant explosion of pain and noise and white.
It is like a freight train. And I am thrown down the mountain like a doll. Life stands still. I feel and see it all in slow motion.
Yet in that split second I have only one realization: a one-degree different course and the sled’s impact would have been with my head. Without doubt, it would have been my last living thought.
Instead, I am in agony, writhing. I am crying. They are tears of relief. I am injured, but I am alive.
I see a helicopter but hear no sound. Then the hospital. I have been in a few since Man vs. Wild began. I hate them.
I can see them all through closed eyes. The dirty, bloodstained emergency room in Vietnam, after I severed half my finger in the jungle. No bedside graces there. Then the rockfall in the Yukon. Not to mention the way worse boulder fall in Costa Rica. The mineshaft collapse in Montana or that saltwater croc in Oz. Or the 16-foot tiger that I landed on in the Pacific versus the snakebite in Borneo.
Countless close shaves. They all blur. All bad.
Yet all good. I am alive.
There are too many to hold grudges. Life is all about the living. I am smiling.
The next day, I forget the crash. To me, it is past. Accidents happen, it was no one’s fault. Lessons learned. Listen to the voice. I move on.
“Hey, Si, I’m cool. Just buy me a piña colada when we get out of here. Oh, and I’ll be sending you the evac, doc, and physio bills.”
He reaches for my hand. I love this man.
We’ve lived some life out there.
I look down to the floor: at my ripped mountain bib pants, bloodstained jacket, smashed Minicam, and broken goggles. I quietly wonder: When did all this craziness become my world?
Excerpted from Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography by Bear Grylls (HarperCollins Publishers).