Monday, August 22, 2005

Cathedral Ledge

I almost died on Wednesday. I was climbing with friend on a classic multi-pitch (Recompense 5.9) route at a place called Cathedral Ledge in North Conway, New Hampshire. I was leading the third pitch with two double ropes and had clipped the bottom rope securely into a fixed anchor. I then stuck a cam in a small crack and clipped the top rope and sat back to rest a second before the crux moves (it was a strenuous lieback and my arms were tired from the previous pitch - a tough chimney with a lieback at the end). The crux move would have left me unprotected for about ten feet, so I wanted to get gear in early just in case I fell on the move. I turned around to listen to what my friend was saying to me and when I turned back I saw that the cam had moved. This is how the conversation went after that -

Greg - Did that thing just move?

Friend - hold on a sec while I adjust my hands.

Cam - POP!

Greg - It popped! It popped!

Friend - Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! What is going on? Fuck!

I fell back about five feet toward a slight incline where my friend was belaying from and slid backward toward the edge. There was nothing to grab as the incline was one big sloper. I knew that there was a sharp ledge just before the edge coming up and I braced myself to grab the ledge as I went over. But just as I go to the edge, my friend caught me. He had a real bad rope burn on his finger because in the initial confusion, his hand was off the bottom rope completely and he grabbed the bottom rope from ABOVE the belay device (as opposed to below where the brake hand goes). If he hadn't caught me then I would have tumbled about 150 feet until the rope ran out of length. I don't think that I would have decked out because we were about 200 feet off the ground. But you never know what the impact of that fall could have done to either my insides or to the pro he was secured to in the rock. Anyway, it was a bit of a tense moment. It was only a 15 foot fall, but one that could have been disastrous.

I don't blame him for the accident either. I mean, he should have had control of both ropes at all times, but I could have placed the cam better and clipped both ropes into both pieces of gear because there was no threat of rope drag at that point. Still, it was a lesson to be learned.

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