‘I got to be on top of the world again’: Woman paralyzed from the chest down summits Colorado’s highest peak

Chris Shively Layne lifts up a sign after reaching the summit of Mount Elbert on Sep. 10, 2023. Layne is paralyzed from the chest down and tackled the feat with the help of The Lockwood Foundation.
Andy Schlichting/ Courtesy photo
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In a matter of minutes, Chris Shively Layne went from being a lifelong athlete with a long list of hikes to tackle to thinking she would never hike again.

Layne was ecstatic when her 17-year-old son invited her on his birthday hike. It’s not every day that a teenager invites his mom to hang out with him and his friends. Yet, that sunny day in October 2016 started off like a dream and ended like a nightmare. 

Seven steps into her hike, Layne lost her footing in Clear Creek Canyon. She fell 80 feet. On his birthday, her son had to assume the role of first responder.

“My son ran down to get me. He said that when he got there he checked my pulse and could not find one, and I was not breathing,” Layne said.  

Layne and volunteers at Mount Elbert’s summit on Sep. 10.
Andy Schlichting/ Courtesy photo

She eventually regained consciousness and realized she had raised her right arm during the fall, protecting her head from what would have been an extreme impact with a boulder. Layne looked around and realized that she had landed on the only pile of leaves in the area, cushioning her fall. 

“I began to move my body … and immediately realized I could not move my legs. It was at that moment I realized I was paralyzed,” Layne said. 

From that day on, Layne would spend the rest of her life paralyzed from the chest down. 

Fast forward years later, Layne eventually found her way back to recreation. On Sep. 10, she summited the highest peak in Colorado, Mount Elbert.

With the assistance of 51 volunteers and a trail rider, a mobility device that uses a single wheel to help navigate narrow trails, Layne made it to the top of the 14,438-foot peak. Having been paralyzed for nearly seven years now, Shivley said she would have never imagined that she could climb another 14er. 

“I thought I’d never hike again — never mind summit the highest peak in Colorado,” Layne said. “There’s no way I would have achieved this goal without the help of The Lockwood Foundation and these volunteers.” 

Layne’s path back to recreation began when she heard about The Lockwood Foundation through two of her friends that had also summited Mt. Elbert with the organization. One had cerebral palsy, and the other had Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The organization’s goal is to get a person living with a different disability to summit Mt. Elbert each year.

The Lockwood Foundation and Layne got in touch and set a goal to get a person in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury to summit the highest peak in Colorado. 

51 people tagged along on Layne’s hike to Mount Elbert’s summit on Sept. 10.
Andy Schlichting/ Courtesy photo

The team with the Lockwood Foundation set up camp at 11,700 feet to prepare for the summit bid. With a 5:45 a.m. start time, the team was back by the afternoon. 

The adventure also included camping, an activity that Layne had not had the opportunity to do in nine years. 

“It was my first 14er and my first time camping in 9 years, and it was the day of the first snow, making things more magical,” Layne said.

“I got to be on top of the world again,” Layne added.

Layne remains on a mission to shed light on accessible recreation to prove people with mobility issues have opportunities to recreate. These days she said her motto is “get up and get rolling.”

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