The next thing I knew there was tons of slack in the system and I had enough time to take in almost three arm lengths of slack. My body was jolted left, upwards, and right due to the nature of the belay. I heard the thud of my partner’s body against the rock. I looked up. Fuck. He must have fallen 50 or 60 feet. The flared crack cradled his upside down, lifeless body. I noticed blood starting to run down his face.
In the 8 seconds my partner was unconscious, I processed a multitude of scenarios in order to get us off the rock and out of the wilderness. No one else was around. We were 100+ feet off of the ground and at least a 2 mile hike into the wilderness. Even then, I wagered we were an hour’s drive in on dirt roads from the nearest small town. We didn’t tell anyone where we were going to climb. I didn’t even know where the nearest hospital was. I ran through the rope systems in my head and how I would get my partner and I down to the ground safely.
As I watched my partner return to consciousness, I still did not try to speak to him. He was gasping for breath and clearly confused as to what had just happened. As he struggled to get his body upright, I saw more blood. His entire neck and back were coated. I started speaking to him and he eventually responded after what felt like an eternity. I relayed that I was going to lower him down to me and he was going to clip in to my master point.
I assessed his mental and cognitive abilities and told him we were going to the ground immediately. I told him to untie his knot and I was going to pull the rope and thread it through the anchor in order to rappel. I asked him if he felt okay doing it by himself because he was going to go first. He assured me he was and I gave him my prusik in order to back up his rappel in case he lost consciousness again. At first he argued, but I was pretty firm on my stance. I also wanted to see if he could tie a prusik. The first time he attempted, he wasn’t using his usual method. I remained quiet and watched as he did it a second time and was successful.
After making it to the ground I took my 3 liter jug of water and poured it all over his head and back.
There was so much blood. Everywhere.
He relayed to me that his jaw hurt really bad. His jaw looked fine though…it was the rest of him that I would think would be in pain. He also relayed his ankles were in pain because he sprained them both on the fall. For some reason that day, I had packed an ace bandage – something I do not usually do. I retrieved the bandage and had him wrap his ankle. Meanwhile I packed up all of the gear at the base of the climb, secured his backpack to mine, and told him we were hiking out at his pace. We agreed to leave the rope hanging on the first pitch.
As soon as we were hobbling on flat ground, I asked him what happened. He joked, “Well, I just fell out of a hand crack.” In reality, we both think the foot he had broke off and that is what caused him to fall. And yes, he was 25 – 30 feet runout above his last piece of gear. And no, he was not wearing a helmet. Although, I have made it clear that wearing a helmet is no longer an optional thing I am merely going to remind my partner about. I should have insisted that morning for him to wear his helmet. Back at camp, I cleaned up his wounds more, applied tea tree oil to them, and monitored him for concussion symptoms for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, we talked about all of the possible scenarios, worked through rope systems, and talked about the what ifs.
After assessing my partner’s body and feelings the next morning, we decided to hobble back into the wilderness, top rope the first pitch, attempt to re-lead the second pitch, retrieve the left gear, and leave. I was scared. I didn’t really want to go back to that climb nor did I want the stress that came with climbing. As we hiked in, I felt like we were just approaching impending doom.
At the base of the climb, we both were silent, double checked our set ups and began up the route again. This time, things went better and my partner was wearing a helmet. On the second pitch, he fell again in the same spot, but this time only about 15 feet and not upside down. He made it to the anchors and I started up the route. When I got to the area where he had landed, I saw massive amounts of blood all over the rock. The blood spatter went for about 8 feet. I immediately felt nauseous and no longer wanted to be climbing. I wanted to be on the ground. Done. I wanted to feel gravity under my feet and not just crumbling rock.
I also quickly realized that getting off of the route was going to require some ingenuity. I wanted this to be easy. The supposed “tree” that the beta relayed was going to serve as an intermediary rappel station was no bigger than my wrist. Let me tell you, there was absolutely no way I was going to use that tree to get down. Getting down off the route felt like a nightmare waiting to turn into a horror story. I did things on rappel I had never had to do before. I felt like crying.
Once we finally made it to the ground, we sat there in silence for a few moments. We were both safe, a little wiser, and left with our own thoughts to process.
Gravity had never felt so bitter sweet.
© /skin/ /ˈpōətrē/