Stairway to Heaven

Two Fridays ago (I know, I’m late in the game. This is old news by now. My wounds are almost healed. My apologies.) I got a phone call from a good friend and old climbing buddy. We’ll call him Pedro.

Pedro called to confirm/discuss the details for a last minute endeavor: climbing at The Gunks. Upon discussing the whens, wheres and hows, he mentioned I should buy a helmet. When I lived in New York I had 20 helmets available to me at any given time. Now that I live in boring Delaware, I must fend for myself.

The Gunks, Pedro explained, are swarming with climbers every day. Many climbers + loose rock = hazards. Helmets are a great way to protect one’s noggin from getting nailed with a rock someone threw out of their way and never yelled the code word for flying rock (it happens to be “rock!”). Or maybe they yelled the code word, but because of the quantities of climbers around you, you can’t tell where it’s coming from.

I digress. I needed a helmet. On the subsequent Saturday, I stopped at my local EMS to pick one up. And I fell in love. Best.helmet.ever.

Sunday, I arose from my slumber at 4:45am — this is what the outdoor culture calls an Alpine Start — and was on the road by 5:30am. I made it to The Gunks by 9:30(ish) with coffee for Pedro in hand.

And at this point in time, I bet you’re all wondering when I’m going to get to the actual story — the one where I ran into 260 foot mountain? I’m getting there. Here’s a photo to appease you.

While we were racking up, I was given the camera. This was my view for most of the expedition — belaying Pedro.

We were climbing a multi-pitch climb, trad, with Pedro leading. This essentially means that Pedro climbed first, placed protection on his way up, found a resting point and anchored in, then I climbed after him cleaning that protection as I went all while relying on his anchor.

Your local Public Service Announcement: Climb with people you trust. Trust your climbing partner.

I would trust Pedro if he told me jumping motorcycles like Evel Knievel was a good idea. Which is essentially how I ended up falling; following his lead. You see, Mr. Pedro is a solid 12 inches taller than I. Me? I’m 5’4″. Pedro? Yeah he’s 6’4″. Things that are easy for him to reach are impossible for me to even think of.

The tale you’ve been waiting for: Pedro led the first pitch and anchored in about 60 feet above the ground/me. From there, I climbed up to meet him and anchored myself in. Then he climbed the second pitch, which led him over two overhangs, all while I belayed and took photos (see above and below).

Without explaining the difference between 5.6 and 5.8 and 5.11, there are different grades to climbing levels. As you would expect, your climbing skill level reflects the intensity of the climbs you’re consistently successful on. For now, we’ll call those levels Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert. Pedro is an advanced climber, I was an intermediate climber six months ago; on the date of our expedition I had probably regressed to a “high beginner”. Because of the difficulty of climbing trad outside – and to level the playing field a bit – we were working on a beginner climb that day.

Until, that is, we went left instead of right. All of a sudden we were on an intermediate climb; a skill level my limbs haven’t seen since December. Which is essentially how I ended up falling.

Here is the section of rock that will become the focus of the rest of my tale:

You can see below the protection I was to clean as I followed.

Pedro led towards the left and over this (below) overhang and continued to climb until he was about 90 feet above me. At that point in time, we could not see or hear each other. Thanks to the tons of rock between us and the busy highway behind us, we relied on feel for the duration of the climb.

I attempted to draw a diagram to explain how the climb “ended”.

Since we could not hear each other, the only thing Pedro knew to do was to keep the rope tight. As I climbed from step 1 to step 2, I felt secure and confident. As I tried to climb over that huge overhang, I started to wear myself down as I failed and failed. The handholds that The Man mentioned when he climbed it weren’t there (they were approximately 12 inches outside of my reach).

What I wanted to do was traverse left more, towards the “easier” part of the overhang. Since Pedro was tightening down on the rope, I didn’t have the ability to move that far away from the next anchor I was supposed to be cleaning. So, I yelled for slack. And yelled. And yelled. Almost exhausted and virtually in tears, Night in Shining Armor #1 came to my rescue. I couldn’t be heard from under the rock-overhang, but a guy on the ground could.

Finally, through my very tiny interpreter, I got enough slack to traverse further left and place my body level-with and 6 feet away from my next anchor (see above, step 3). I went to make the crux move and found no hand holds. By that time, I was really spent physically and stepped back down. After a few minute’s rest, I tried again and lost it. I lost my footing. I lost whatever my hands were holding. I lost my balance.

Here’s what happened:

I free fell for 5-7 feet, then pendulum swung for another 10-15. By the time I made it to the impact zone, my back was against the wall. Essentially I belly flopped, but with my back instead. I bounced once, then came back for a second impact. Both times, I hit my lower back, left shoulder and my head.

And that’s how I fell.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my saga which may or may not be titled: How I almost threw up on Night in Shining Armor #2.

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One thought on “Stairway to Heaven

  1. Pingback: Stairway to Heaven: Part 2 « not a local

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