Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Near Death Experience

Thankfully not my death, and also thankfully in the end no one was hurt. Here's the story.

Shelley and I were climbing a route called Dryathlon, a trad route up a corner crack. A couple of girls asked if it was ok if they climbed the bolted sport route beside us. We said sure.

I reached the top and was belaying Shelley up. The girl reached the top and clipped into the anchors. She was young and fit and full of life. And also a bit distracted and in a bit of a hurry. I could hear someone down below yelling "off belay" (meaning they were no longer securing the rope). But the girl up at the top with me wasn't paying any attention so I assumed it must be another group. (There were about four groups climbing, all yelling to each other.)

She barely stopped to catch her breath and she began to back over the edge, expecting her partner to lower her. But it turned out it had been her partner yelling "off belay". She stepped back over the edge and dropped like a stone.

Her rope beside me flew through the anchors. She didn't make a sound. No last shriek from this girl.

For a fraction of a second I waited for the most sickening sound of my life, as her body hit the rocks a hundred feet below

And then the rope stopped. She'd fallen 30 or 40 feet, but luckily the cliff was vertical and relatively smooth and she hadn't hit anything. Shelley was shocked to see her plummet past her. And down below a guy in their group said "what the f*** just happened?"

After a few minutes her partner lowered her the rest of the way to the ground. Shelley finished our climb and we rapped off (carefully!)

When I got down she was belaying her partner on the same route. She was trying to act as if nothing had happened but she had to have been shaken. I asked her if she was ok. She said, "yes, thank you". I said "that was scary" and she answered simply "yes". Her earlier exuberance was definitely muted.

Honestly, we can't figure out how she survived. If her partner had really taken her off belay, she should have fallen all the way. And if she was still on belay, then she shouldn't have fallen at all. Maybe the rope snagged. Or maybe the rope was still through the belay device but hands off, and she managed to catch it, or it snagged. Whatever happened, she was extremely lucky.

It was a good reminder, to them, and to us, and to everyone, that climbing is a sport where you have to pay attention. Not because the teacher tells you so, but because if you don't, it can kill you. Every year there are fatal accidents just like this one.


No comments:

Post a Comment