Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
My son and I went rock climbing Saturday – I know, it’s a stretch, but no sex, no son – and I fell. My war wounds include a four-inch gash, sprained ankle, and broken rib.
We were climbing at
Frustration Creek, a slot canyon near Forest Fall, CA accessible only via a 5.6 approach slab along a waterfall that involves some “sketchy” moves without protection. The 5.6 rating means that a lead climber should place intermediate gear – in this case, a rope – to assist others to make the ascent safely.
On Saturday, there was no rope.
Wholly under the influence of Imitrex, a triptan used to treat migraines, I opted to rest in the car while the my son and a friend headed up. I thought it would take about an hour for them to put a rope up and get a climb in each before I joined them. While I indulged a drug-induced loopiness and settled into to sleep off my “headache,” they decided to
solo the approach. In other words, both of them would free solo the approach, or climb without a rope, harness, or other gear.
Nearly an hour later, I followed. When I reached the approach climb, there was no rope and the boys were too far away to hear me if I called, so I climbed up. I’ve climbed this pitch countless times hand-over-hand, so it was really no problem; however, climbing back down would be.
At the time, I felt great – euphoric even, which is typical for me during that blissful period between the end of a migraine and my return to reality. For a few hours to a day or more, I simply feel high – an odd combination of pin-point clarity through a kind of mental fuzziness that makes “even routine tasks take on an otherworldly quality.” My doctor has explained to me that this is the migraine
or final phase of this kind of neurovascular headache.
Although now I can recall feeling uncomfortable with my son's putting the rope away before we headed out of the canyon toward the top of the waterfall-adjacent route we'd have to negotiate en route to the car, at the time, I simply asked him, "Are you putting a rope up?" He either said, "No," or indicated as much by barreling back down ahead of me. I followed, confident at first and then more hesitantly because I honestly could not quite "see" where to put my foot. I even asked my son to "spot" me, or position himself to guide me down safely if I slipped.
Moments later, I was holding on with both hands, looking down for a place to place my right foot, when a piece of the rock I was holding onto with my right hand came off the wet canyon wall. I distinctly remember simultaneously falling backward and forcing my right foot down, as if to arrest my fall by forcing myself to stand on both feet, and then I was falling - hands, face, chest and ribs, hips, knees banging against the slab all the way down. Afterward, onlookers told me that I fell "really well," as if I'd practiced. Good to know.
As it is, I'll be more or less off my feet for as long as it takes for my sprained ankle to heal, and confined to activities with literally no risk of falling for far longer. Yes, it could be worse. What bothers me, is that it was entirely preventible.
If my son had set a rope before descending - either on his own initiative or because I insisted - I would have been rappelling or holding a rope, the rock I was balancing against as I stepped down probably would not have come loose, and I would still be preparing to compete in the Pasadena Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon next month. Hindsight's a bitch.
Moral of this cautionary tale? While sex has much to recommend it off the rocks, drugs and climbing do not mix.