Afraid of looking like an idiot

Immediately after this incident happened I told myself that I wasn’t going to share this story on my blog, mostly because I was afraid of looking like an unsafe idiot. But then I remembered that the whole purpose of this blog was to tell honest stories about failure because I spent too many years caring about how others perceived me.

So here is my story and I’m not afraid of looking stupid and unsafe because I know that I’m a safe climber and so do all my climbing partners, but unforeseen things happen in climbing and that’s when things can get serious.

It was day three of a long weekend in the Red River Gorge. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day and I was alone at the top of a 5.9 route cleaning it. My belayer Ben had gone over to watch a friend climb an adjacent route and so I just stayed at the top, soaking in the sun and watching Aaron as well from my high vantage point.

After enjoying the view of the valley, I pulled the rope through the anchor, tied a safety knot, lowered the rope and setup my rappel. I double checked my setup and removed my personal anchor device. I took in the beautiful view again and then started rappelling.

Slowly I lowered myself on the rope. About halfway down the route I was jarred out of my sunny mood when I suddenly stopped. With wide eyes I looked down to see what had halted my momentum. I turned instantly white when I saw the safety knot jammed into my prussik auto lock. Beneath that lay open air, 30 feet or so to the ground. Apparently I had not pulled the rope through the rappel rings enough and so both sides did not touch the ground.

Quickly I looked around and saw a bolt in front of me which I promptly connected my personal anchor device to. And that’s when the realization set in that I had nearly rapped off my rope. Just like all the idiots you read about in climbing accident reports (many of which happen in the same Muir Valley I was in). I nearly had a tragic ending to my weekend. It was very sobering.

Pushing all of my emotions aside, I assessed the situation and decided to ascend back up the rope to redo my setup. Luckily I could use the rock, and I slowly pushed my autolock up the rope and went to the top. This time I made sure I pulled enough rope through to touch the ground, reloaded my rappel setup and rappelled down.

Once on the ground I felt calm, but also realized I was very lucky that I consistently tie safety knots in my ropes when rappelling. In fact, just the day before I had yelled at my friend Dave for throwing his rope down from a climb without a knot. He said that the guys he learned to climb with never did it, so it wasn’t a habit for him. We had made some jokes about it, but that day on the drive home I called him from the car and relayed my story. “Okay, you’ve convinced me” he had said.

So there you have it. I tell this story, not so much so you can learn from my mistake, though I do hope you always tie safety knots, but to encourage you to be open and honest, even when you really screw something up or have an epic failure. And if you are anything like me, you’ll have many stories to share.

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