Gentle push | AspenTimes.com

Gentle push

Ron RashAspen, CO Colorado

Richard was standing at the foot of the cliff face, and he was starting to become very concerned. He could hear the pleading in her voice, even though he could not see her.”Don’t push me, please don’t push me!”Richard was below us, holding the two ends of the rope ready to give a firemen’s belay should anything go wrong on the rappel. Something was definitely going wrong.I was at the top of the cliff with the young lady I’ve mentioned before; the one with the tight muscular body, the type of body women spend thousands of dollars trying to achieve and never quite get there.We were involved in a serious communication challenge. I had asked her earlier in the day if she knew how to rappel. She answered yes. She confused being belayed and lowered on an indoor climbing wall with rappelling. They are similar, and at the same time, they are very different.Now I was trying to explain rappelling at more than 13,000 feet with 2,000 feet of exposure off the north face of North Maroon Peak at our feet. All she had to do was rappel 50 feet down to Richard while looking at all of that nothingness to her right.She was cold and scared. I was tired and frustrated. I rigged the rappel device in the ropes and showed her which hand to use as her brake hand. I explained that if her brake hand came off, Richard would pull on both ropes and she would stop. She refused to lean back and start sliding down the ropes. We talked, and we talked. I should have just tied her into the rope and lowered her down, but I did not want to do that. She was rigged and ready to go. I knew she could do this.About this time Richard started adding his voice to the situation.I replied back, “That’s just great Richard, thank you very much.”All the while I silently thought, “Please Richard just shut up.”I was thinking of using stern language – maybe even the F-word – but I calmly said, “OK, please look right into my eyes and lean back. That’s it lean back, you got it …”Then she would stop stand up and said,” I can’t do this, I really can’t do this.”I used a slightly harsher tone. I was starting to fall back on my male intimidation skills. My intimidation skills would make Woody Allen look macho, and she knew this. Finally, I gently pushed her. That gentle push on my part was approaching the height of stupidity. It was obvious to her that I did not have her best interest in mind with that gentle push. We had climbed the northeast ridge route on North Maroon without incident; even crossing Minnehaha Creek just after the Buckskin Pass Trail without getting our feet wet. We had reached the summit in good style and, after passing congratulations around, we began our descent – the most dangerous part of any climb.When descending we would find that with each downward step, all of our weight was going with gravity. If you step on a loose rock, or you misstep and lose your balance, your weight combined with the forces of gravity are working to take you down the mountainside in a potentially uncontrolled slide.When we set up our rappel we found that being completely dependent on our gear opens up new possibilities for having an unpleasant incident with dire consequences. The number of climbers that have perished on rappel because of ropes getting cut, anchors popping out or harnesses not being tied into properly is open to conjecture. Of course I was telling her everything was safe, but was it really?Finally, and much to my relief, she leaned back ever so tentatively and started to slide down the ropes.Except for our minor delay at the rappel station we had made excellent time for our round-trip climb. Since that climb, many years ago, we have found a better way up “the punk rock band” by following the cliff band a few hundred feet to the right of the old traditional route. There’s a series of slanting rock steps where you can easily walk up or down with no dependency on technical climbing gear.As with all good climbs, the real congratulations took place back at the parking lot, not on the summit.


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