Thursday, September 04, 2008

I Recently Had a Near Life Experience

So my trips have been slowing down as of late. After a day trip to Grand Junction and a personal trip to the Black Canyon I was back in the Springs. The boss left for his own trip to the Wind River Range earlier and so I was basically in charge. I also had 5 trips that week. Pretty good.

So one of my trips was with an older woman doing multi-pitch climbs in the Garden. This was a great trip. We ended up climbing the three classic multi-pitch climbs in the Garden as well as the last pitch of West Point Crack which I had never actually done before. Before this we climbed the North Ridge of Montezuma's Tower and then at the end of the day we did New Era. So just a great day.

The day before I had a group of gentleman who I was going to be teaching everything I knew for three days. So we started the day off with some toproping and anchor building. Then near the end of the day I started to introduce trad gear and sport leading. One of the guys was having a little problem dealing with the height but everyone was grasping the concepts pretty well and so at the end of the day we decided to meet at Red Rocks to do some sport leading and anchor cleaning. Nothing big going on there, got some leading in and a few good climbs. So as the day ended we were once again going to the Garden to perhaps learn some multipitch climbing.

Meeting the next day they're all obviously quite hungover. No big deal, we'll take it easy. So I head to the first climb of the day, Finger Ramp. A real nice 5.7 with a little smeary crux at near the top. It's bolted in typical garden style with a good fifteen foot runout to the chains. It's also traversing in nature. As I double checked everyone being tied in and harnessed correctly I shoed up and shook my head dismissively at the quarter size hole in the toe of the right shoe. As I head up I feel pretty good I clip the first four bolts. I clip the last bolt before the anchor and look ahead. How did I do this last time I wonder. Oh well, it's 5.7, I'll figure it out. As I start to pull the layback moves I reach towards a large jug that ends the crux section. Looking at the hold I notice it's cracked around the entire hold so I shift my feet to move my hand higher to reduce the leverage on the hold. As I go to move my hand my foot slips and I'm sliding. Amazingly quite a few thoughts fly through my head. The first is that I should have resoled my shoes earlier. The second is that I've been sliding for a while, then I see the bolt go by and I think that's it's nice to have a client who knows how to belay.

As I slow to a stop I'm shaking. I look over to my clients to see them staring wide eyed as one of them asks if I'm ok, to which I reply, "yes I'm fine, but that's pretty much what it's like to fall." The thing about falling as a guide is, A: you're not supposed to do it, because it's very life threatening, and B: get your ass back up there because you can't let your clients know you're freaked out. Not only does it freak them out but it takes away the confidence they have in you. So I pulled my self back up to the last bolt, shook out my arms, which were scraped and bleeding, then proceeded to finish the climb like it was no big deal. Despite my fall everyone made it to the belay.

Despite eating lunch and hiking to the next area to climb I was still a little electrified from the fall. This combined with the many phone calls from the boss asking me to make many phone calls while on a trip, I felt really crappy for the day. In my opinion it was probably my worst day of work ever. The dark clouds and light rain reflected my mood as I cleaned the last anchors and we parted ways.

When everything goes according to plan guiding can be enjoyable. I get to take people on some of my favorite climbs. When things go wrong it can be very stressful. You can't avoid doing a climb because you're not feeling like doing that 30 ft. runout. You can't end the day because you take a bad fall (in fact you shouldn't fall at all). You're entirely responsible for the lives of others as well as you're own. The people belaying you might not catch you, in fact there is a chance that they might pull you off (hence the reason I free solo more often). A good guide will be able to hide their fear, boredom, frustration, and all the while being cheerful and efficient in order to bring the client an experience that they paid for. That day I did not do this very well although the previous two days with this group I had done this very well. I guess two out of three ain't bad.

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