Friday, March 02, 2007

Marty And The Moment That Rocked The Wall --Part Two--

(THIS IS PART 2 OF A STORY I started one post below)--

SO THERE WE WERE, the three big wall amigos. Everybody who could see over from their own climbing routes were looking at us and looking at Marty. They could tell he was not hurt. The way he sat at the bottom of his rope and gripped his rope made that obvious, but they could tell that he was not ALL RIGHT.

Marty had a harness on. It gripped tight around his waste and looped each leg. It was designed to hold thousands of pounds of Martys, and Marty’s rope was tied to this with a knot called a figure eight. This knot was invented to not slip. In fact, the more force on the knot, the better the knot was for not untying. All this to say, Marty was not doing himself any favors by gripping this rope with both hands and holding on for dear life. See what I mean? It was already tied to his waste, and we had the other end. Holding it in the middle did no one any good, and just made us look less cool with all the other climbers.

Marty was in a panic. Marty was scared for no rational reason, but you couldn’t argue with him about it. Marty had at least stopped yelling “HELP!” and I could think about what to do next.

My brother Jay got a little tickled by his mentor and teacher’s behavior. I have to admit, I was a bit tickled too. But we WERE 350 feet or so off of the ground and Marty just under 300, and Marty was in a stricken state. Normal climbing procedures were now out the window. We had to figure out how to get Marty down safely and, hopefully, without crying for help ourselves.

The biggest dilemma was my brother. Damn him and his ropes management skills. Anything I thought to do, relied on my brother using rope skills to help out. He could lead up the last pitch, and then leave me his rope. I could then rappel down to Marty, tie the two ropes together, and lower Marty to the ground.

I could leave Jay there, rappel to Marty on a single rope, then let my brother bring the rope up and rappel down on a single rope, which meant we had to leave the rope or climb back up and get it.

Or I could trust Jay to belay two climbers back to where he was, IF I could get Marty to blow it all out and convince him he could still climb. The only way to do this was to climb along with him, talking him through it. Jay would have to take up slack through two devices with two separate ropes at the same time, without letting go of either.
I don’t know why, but I was sure this was the right thing to do. Part of me wanted to get Marty back on the horse. Part of me wanted to avoid having to leave a 150 dollar rope behind. Most of me did not want to trust my brother to do what needed to be done.

But we did it. I set everything up for Jay and went over the instructions carefully. “Wedge this one in between these two fingers, and this one in between these two fingers. Slide your hand like this. DO NOT-- I REPEAT-- DO NOT let go of either rope. Yell down if you get behind and need to take up slack.”



Crap! It is one thing to hear "OK", it is another to have to believe he understood that while you were hanging your butt off of a cliff, ya know?

I had Jay tie off Marty’s and my ropes so they were now static and rappelled down to where Marty was. Boy was he glad to see me. As I rappelled down, I was looking at the climb directly underneath me as I walked and hopped backwards down the wall. I saw holds and places to place protection and a few marks of chalk left by climbers. The wall looked very thin here, meaning everything you stood on or grabbed was narrow and stuck out little, like a quarter inch in many cases. Yeah, like standing on a light switch cover while trying to dust your ceiling. Yeah. Like that.

I found Marty still holding that coveted rope with both white-knuckle hands as I approached him.

“Hey Marty. Stop choking your rope, man,” I called out as I was heading down still, “you’re gonna tire out your hands!”

Marty let go with one hand and shook it out. Then he switched hands and shook out the other hand. But he was hell bent on gripping that rope. I rappelled up alongside him.

“Hey Marty. Let go, man. Relax. That knot is stronger than your hands, man. It’ll hold you.”

Marty was quivering. “I lost it man, I lost it! I’m fucked now. I’m totally fucked!” Marty was staring straight at the rock, afraid to look down.

I tied my rope off so I could let go of my rappel and hang there at the same level as Marty. I let my hands hang down to my sides and shook them a little. I was sitting in a harness that held a few thousand pounds of me tied to a rope that held over six thousand pounds with a knot I was totally confident in. There was no reason to be afraid.

“Like this, Marty. With both hands.”

“This is fucked, man. This is so fucked!”

“Hey Marty. Easy man. You’re safe. You’re fine. Look at my face but don’t look down.”

Marty looked over at me. My tongue was out and I was cross-eyed. Marty spit out a laugh and then cursed me. He gripped the rope that held him with both hands. “Oh you fucker! You fucking fucker!”

I laughed. “Yeah, but I made you laugh you old codger! Now what’s the deal? You’re scared shitless and you’re stuck on the side of a cliff?”




“Yeah, so what? You think that’s something special?”

“Don’t try your psychology crap on me, I’m too smart. “

“No you’re not. Look, you won’t stop gripping that rope and you won’t stop looking at the wall and you are hyperventilating. How smart is that?”

I had old smarty pants Marty, there. You want to make someone stop being afraid, make them angry. You want to make an intellectual wannabe angry, call him “not smart” and then demonstrate his “not smartness” to him.

Marty knew that he was safe. He knew he should let go of the rope which he did (which helped him let go of some trapped fear, too). He set his feet like I had mine against the rock and leaned back and let his arms dangle as he shook his hands. He let out one of those relieved screams and I thought “Oh shit, here we go again“, but he stopped right away. I pulled a jug of water I had tied to my harness out and offered him some. His mouth was as dry as a sun dried tomato. He drank. He felt better. He was still quite scared and shaky, much of it from adrenaline he no longer needed.

“Man, you got a set of lungs on you.” I teased him.

“Fuck you!”

“Atta boy, Marty. Glad you’re back.”

“Did you see that swing I took?”

“Yeah, wasn’t it great?”

“No fucking way. First Jay pulls too hard on the rope and pulls me off the rock, then I fall straight down and think, “Oh shit, this is it!” and then I am spinning across the face over there and I have no idea where I am going or stopping.”

“I pulled you off.”


“I pulled you off. You were screaming Heeeellllpppp! And I wanted you to stop.”

“YOU pulled me off?”


“On purpose?”

“Yeah. You were just gonna hang there and scream until you fell off anyway. I was trying to help.”

“Trying to help?”


We argued about this decision of mine for five minutes longer. It was really quite comical. Marty, the intellectual, pulled out all manners of stops to win this argument and I enjoyed the great banter we had which effectively calmed Marty down and got his mind ‘right” again. Jay called down from above.

“What are you guys DOING? My butt is getting numb!”

It was time to make the next move.

In order for Jay to switch us from a fixed or static anchor to his two belaying devices, Marty and I had to safely anchor ourselves into the rock near where we were so Jay could untie us and reroute our ropes through his device. Basically, we had to rely on some other form of anchor while Jay set us up.

The nearest place I could see at our elevation was twenty feet over, back in the direction of where Marty had swung from.

This meant Marty had to do one of those swinging things, another big pendulum, and it meant I had to do it at the same time as Marty too. I clipped Marty to myself and we began walking away from where we wanted to go. When we got back a ways, we ran across the rock. Marty fell down and I tangled with him and we didn’t make it very far. We swung back and got our feet, and this time, we got almost there before running out of momentum and we swung back and lost our feet. This was really really fun. Marty heard me laughing and realized that it was indeed, quite amusing.

We got it on the next big pendulous arc. Woohoohoo!

Then we anchored in and stood tied to the rock on a small ledge while Jay (hopefully) set up dual belays and I got Marty to look out and enjoy just how great the view was from that high up and “was that my van down there?”

Oh jeez…

It took Jay a good twenty minutes to be sure he had everything set up right and off we went. (I later realized we could have used just one rope with both of us tied into it, but never you mind. That day, I did the dual rope thing and I am here, aren’t I?)

Marty and I had to invent a route that was not in any guide book. We climbed sideways, we hung there and talked about possible avenues upwards and we tried out different zigs and zags and Marty climbed a really hard section with me right under him, talking to him and suggesting things like “try moving your right foot onto that edge there…” and the two of us moved through some pretty hard sections of rock to climb. Jay managed to keep most of the slack out of our ropes and I just hoped and prayed that he had it all right. I told Marty not to fall because Jay had set up his belay and Marty grew tight but kept himself together.

Finally, the two of us got back onto the route we were supposed to be on, and we climbed up toward the source of our ropes and eventually got to Jay who was AWASH in coiled and curled and tangled ropes as he did nothing but stare at the two ropes he was feeding through his belay devices and his hands were perfectly placed to hold both ropes.

Jay had done his job correctly, though I am thankful that we never fell and tested him.

When Marty and I got to the ledge, we both plopped over on it and Marty, my beloved Marty, said “Wow! That was Glorious!”

“Get yourself anchored in,“ I reminded an elated and relieved Marty, so Jay could release the death grip he had on our ropes.

There. Now we had the three amigo big wall rock climbers all sitting safely on ledge three, 350 feet or so off the ground, with one long pitch to go.

We switched Marty and Jay’s position in the turns, and I told Marty to be sure and route the rope properly, so Jay wouldn’t have to deal with the same problem he just had to face.

The rest of the route went smooth enough, I guess (considering the trio) and we summited and collected our gear and began walking down the backside of the cliff to my van.

The whole way back, Marty was wondering about the section he and I had climbed. He kept thinking and talking about it.

“I wonder if we did a first ascent?”

“I wonder if that section was ever rated?

“What do you think, a 5.10 c? maybe 5.11a?”

“No idea, Marty. Check the guidebook back at the van. I’m hungry.”

In the end, it turned out we climbed an “unregistered” section of rock on a busy wall. Marty was completely excited by this. When you climb something for the first time, by tradition, you get to name it. “Dream Machine” Bookmark”, “Corrugation Corner.” "Pictures In A Landscape” “Carcinogenic Doll Urine” etc…

Marty started tossing out names and analyzing the climb and this occupied his mind for the rest of the weekend, where “a strained ligament” kept him from climbing again on Sunday. Jay and I did a route and Marty poured over the guidebook, dreaming and thinking, back to smoking his pipe and typical Marty stuff...

“Salvation Sheer Wall”…

“Little Tidbits”…

“Masterful Romance”…

I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the white chalk of other climbers that I saw.


Shirley said...

Good story, Scott. However, I still think that anyone who climbs rocks or mountains has to be a bit crazy and have a death wish somewhere inside. Me, I'll take a nice easy trail.

Dogbait said...

Great story, mate! I was at Mt Arapliles once and have a great photo of me hanging onto a rock unroped. Kept telling everyone it was a Grade 26 but forgot to mention TP was lying on the ground a metre under me to take the shot!

My first and last was a Grade 12. Came to this rock overhang and TP went over it like it didn't exist and I sat jammed under it clueless and the instructor had to come down and drag me over. At least I didn't go Heeeeeeeeeeeelp!

Cheesy said...

"like standing on a light switch cover while trying to dust your ceiling" XCLNT ANALOGY!

Great ending to a grand day....

Jean said...

You are amazingly cool, calculated, logical, confident, knowledgeable... but, jeezusgawd... just reading this made my asshole slam more than once!

slaghammer said...

That’s crazy shit. I would never climb anything I didn’t take a hand in building.

kario said...

You are nuts! Marty was damn lucky you decided to come along for the ride. Hope you never climbed with those two again...