Leaving a pal out to hang | AspenTimes.com

Leaving a pal out to hang

Ron Rash

A number of years ago when our rock climbing abilities were less than stellar, Maureen the Canadian came up with this brilliant idea how to top rope the classic Cryogenics climb at Lower Grotto Wall.At the time, I could lead the bottom section of Cryogenics to a small cave. After the cave, you have around 15 to 20 feet of a small hand crack before you get to the ledge and the anchor chains. At the time, I was afraid to come out of the small cave and finish leading to the anchors because I was unsure as to how to place protection in the crack and hang on at the same time.Maureen was pretty sure she could walk to the top of Lower Grotto Wall, then rappel down to the anchor chains. I told her if she felt comfortable to go for it, “But just make sure to tie a knot in the end of your rope,” I reminded her, explaining the rope would not reach the ground, and that many a good mountaineer has made the fatal mistake of rappelling off the end of their rope.She did fine threading her rope through the top anchors, and I was right – the rope was short of reaching the ground by at least 50 feet.The top section of the Lower Grotto Wall is overhanging, so when Maureen rappelled down, even with the anchors, she was 15 feet from them and was stuck hanging in space. This is when the fun began. Maureen thought she could simply swing over to ledge to grab the anchors, and then tie in to the anchors while she set up a top rope. It was not supposed to be complicated, and at the time I thought the plan would work. Our grand plans were about to end. She tried swinging for all she was worth to no avail. She could only generate enough swing to move about 3 feet – nowhere near the 15 feet she needed. There was something about the weight on the rope, the overhang and laws of physics – well beyond my comprehension – that made getting back to the wall impossible.After about 10 minutes, it dawned on Maureen and the rest of us at the bottom that she was quite stuck. We did not have an extra rope to drop to her so there she sat in her harness totally perplexed as to what to do.The three of us at the bottom had been offering verbal encouragement and maybe a little teasing, until we saw the seriousness of the situation. Then all hell broke loose. Maureen lost her composure and started using very harsh language directed at Richard, me and Laurie (my wife at the time).I started talking to Maureen in a soft monotone voice to reassure her that we would get her down. Maureen is very intelligent, and at the time she was helping the Lovinses in writing environmental journals for the Rocky Mountain Institute. She knew exactly what I was trying to do and went completely ballistic. I remained calm and kept up my reassurances.We needed a knight, we needed a hero. Hell, we needed someone to lead that last few feet to her and toss her a line to pull her in – and that’s when our hero showed up.Mountaineer extraordinaire, winter athlete supreme and just plain all around mountain God – Andre Wille.Andre quickly led the pitch up to Maureen, threw her a line and pulled her in. He then helped her untie and rigged her into the new top rope, which she used to rappel down to the ground and her waiting companions.When she got down to us, she quietly gathered up her gear, and without so much as a word to the three of us, she walked down to the road and hitched a ride home.That was the last time any of us ever saw or spoke a word to Maureen. We lost a good friend through our ineptness and her unforgiving anger. We learned a huge lesson. We did some things well as far as safety was concerned. Two things really stood out that we did poorly: The first was we were trying to set up a climb under a roof without proper experience. None of us had rappelled off a roof before and tried swinging before to see the consequences. The second one was overall communication flaws that led us to losing a good friend. Ron is constantly amazed at all of the ways we can get in to trouble when playing outside. E-mail your best bonehead story at ronlrash@aol.com.


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