Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Chuckawalla Fall

Rock climbing is a great outlet to overcome the fear of heights and to (in a small way) connect with and/or conquere Earth. This sport, if not done regularly, can drain one of strength in a short period of time. Many precautions are to be taken when participating in this potentially dangerous activity.
A natural rock climbing playground is found just outside of St. George, UT. This "Earthy" Disneyland is famously known as Chuckawalla. On one particular occasion I was climbing with my equally experienced (and by the same token inexperienced) brother. Along with us came a few members of our family to try rock climbing for the first time. We were using my brothers rope, so naturally he would lead and I was left to belay. After he got the rope set we let everyone try to climb as high as they could (or as high as they could stand) before lowering them back to the ground. Finally it was my turn to "clean" the route - that is to say, get his carribeaners out of the chains so we could take the rope down and start another climb.
My inexperience started to show when while I was at the top I dropped one of the quickdraws and didn't even notice it. I would use these quickdraws to connect myself to the chains while I disconnect myself from the rope. Luckily I had a couple spares - and even more fortunate - the carribeaners didn't hit anyone after falling 30+ feet. A climber on a nearby route gives me some unsolicited advice and I insencerely thank him.
After cleaning that route we decide to climb one more - maybe a little easier this time since the family seemed to have trouble on that one. We try another close by and my brother again procedes to lead while I belay. He gets past the first two bolts without too much trouble. As he approaches the third I start to give him the slack in the rope that he will need to pull it up and put through the quickdraw. Mistake #1 - he hadn't even put the quickdraw in the bolt yet. He decides to get a little closer so he can reach it better. In a split second he is falling; and way too fast due to the excess of slack in the rope at the time. Then comes Mistake #2 - I was standing about ten feet away from the wall. So when he takes up all the slack I get pulled in and he continues to fall - a little slower now, but still quite dramatically. When he comes to a "safe" stop he is about three feet from the ground and he looks down and realized how close his head came from hitting. Both of us traumatized - I let him down to the ground and he freezes in awe.
After some time he attempts to climb up again, but after getting to the same spot - and being short on strength - he decides he's too shaken up to continue. We clean up, pack up, and decide we're done. It is time to start on our journey home anyway. Somewhat sudden, we say goodbye to our family and start on our long drive home. Not a word was said for at least two hours. I can tell he is upset; and he can be sharp and unpleasant when he's mad. So in my attempt to let him cool down we just drive, listen to music, and he reads. Eventually conversation starts up about the book and it seems he's ok.
But to my dissapointment, everytime it's brought up he is still quite upset and who knows how long he'll hold this against me. But can you blame him? Sure, he's fine - no harm done, but just three more feet and that could have hurt.
That is how such a great, potentially rewarding activity can have just the opposite effect. Instead of conquering fears, I'm sure it has increased them. Instead of feeling refreshed and revitalized after spending time in the elements, we feel depressed and despondent. And so it is - but what to take away from this? Don't fall? No, I say fall. Fall and get back up. Climb again. But learn, and be thankful that you're not hurt, or dead. Things can get worse. And they will. But they can also get better, and they will. Some things take time - this will.