I flag left and reach up to the top of the wall. Green 5.9 warm-up completed!
I grab the rope resting on my knee, and pull it down over the anchors.
I’m on take, and the fall begins.
I walk my feet down the wall to keep from cheese grating, but soon my feet can’t keep up…
I begin hurtling down the wall…I peek down at my belayer with a grin, thinking she is just playing with me.
I’m racing down through the air…my stomach completely drops…I feel my hair shoot up, as if I stuck my head out of a car window…
I’m falling way too fast. The ground is really close. Really close. Even if she drops the GRIGRI lever right now, there’s no way I’d stop before the ground. Stupid rope stretch. I mean, it’s great for regular falls, but you know, when you’re about to deck, you really just wish you were on a stiff, worn-out gym rope.
Time stops. How did I get to this spot? Why am I falling so fast?
My climbing career flashes before my eyes. Weak attempts at pull-ups. My first V2, a purple traverse. Learning to lead climb. My buddies teaching me how to make safe anchors. What will my friends think? Will my mom ever let me climb again? Will I ever climb again? Where are my legs? The ground is close. I need to protect my joints. I need to stay in shape; I can’t get hurt. I really have enough back problems…I have to protect my back, my neck…
Where’s my belayer? I can’t land on her. Who’s below me? I’m too big, moving too fast…I’ll hurt them…but I don’t want to hurt anybody; they should see me coming, right? Oh man oh man oh man there it is here we go oh man it’s so close feet
FIRST feet FIRST
my toes, protected behind the thick rubber of the blancos Carrot gifted me, slap the mat
now back lean BACK and WATCH the knees slow bend and
oooof my center of gravity hits and sinks into mat
wow that’s quite a deep pit boy the mat is pretty scratchy but wait
I’m still going back
WAIT what is going on hang on WHAT
leaning back and keep the neck protected don’t smack your head
why in the world am I going up physics who are you???
you’ve gotta be kidding me I bounce up to fall AGAIN c’mon man
ooooof I hit hard…again…but man my head is spinning what just happened?
Now I’m frozen. But my belayer…is she okay? What happened? What happened?
Those seconds were my experience when I was decked. But, that’s not the whole story. This is really what happened, as I learned after I could get my thoughts in order.
My belayer learned how to lead belay on the GRIGRI+. As you might remember from my comparison review, the GRIGRI+ has an anti-panic feature that locks up when you lower too quickly; in order to disable this feature, you pull the lever all the way back. So, she had this habit of pulling the lever down completely and lowering with her hand as you would with an ATC.
Anyway, she borrowed my GRIGRI and did what she was used to: she lowered me without the assisted braking feature of GRIGRIs. The rope started going too quickly through her hand, and she lost control despite her efforts to grab the rope. But all it did was give her a burn across her palm.
Since it happened so fast, she forgot she could just drop the lever on the GRIGRI so the device could help her brake, and the device could have caught me.
My struggles with this are outlined in Dear Abby, where I write for advice on how to get over my deepened fear of lead climbing. Because now I can’t say one of my favorite lines from our fearless friend Kaitlin, “if your belayer don’t got you, the GRIGRI do.” Now, the GRIGRI hasn’t always had me. My belayer hasn’t always had me. And I’m not upset with her by any means—it was an honest mistake and a learning experience. We’re still great friends and there’s no hard feelings at all. But there is this persistent fear: it’s not always going to be fine.
Anything can happen out there. Stay safe my friends…and remember:
It’s not always going to be fine.