|an experience from 1997
originally printed in "Off the Wall"
I spoke to Gordon recently. He's been away, working on Lord Howe island, but that's another story. Gordon saved my life. Sounds dramatic, but it's true. Him belaying, me falling. Off Bastion Buttress in the Warrumbungles.
I asked him if I really had ended up stationary, upside down, about a body length above a ledge. He affirmed this to be the case. If that was where I ended up after a 20 meter whipper, my margin was seriously small, and the green bag rather than the painful walk out was too close to having been a reality to bear thinking about. Means I must have decked too. No wonder the walk out was so painful.
Gordon also said that the most unnerving thing for him was the dripping sound as my blood pooled on the ledge.
I was unconscious for long enough not to hear him calling my name. But I did hear him exclaiming, repeadedly and plaintively, a popular Anglo-Saxon expletive. I looked up to see the blood covered rocks, looked down to see the sky, took stock of my limbs, found enough of them to get myself upright and waited for Gordo to lower me the last little bit and tie me off. And for him to get the first aid kit out of the pack, but not the camera. (A thought in both our minds, but not one either of us acted on. Foolishly tasteful, dammit!)
He bandaged my head and pulled the ropes. We spent some time regaining our composure. I had to make no more decisions. Was wanting to get down, but not wanting to addle my scrambled brains any further. Was thinking about to whom to give the rest of my rack, as there was NO WAY I was going to climb again. Was thinking about the walk back across the scree and the couple of of k's back to Balor Hut. (And the six further kilometers back to the car. And the drive back, as Gordon doesn't have a license, does he?) Was thinking about the helmet in my pack at the base of the climb. Was thinking a lot about that.
Gordon could make the decisions. He could do the finesse. My job was determination. There would be a time for rest, but it was not now. The foot hurt, the body hurt, but it was the head which was the worry.
Partly abseiling, partly downclimbing, we descend, Gordon taking care of the details. There would be a time to rest, but it was not now. Shouldering my pack and picking up my stick, I follow Gordon across the scree. There would be a time to rest, but it is not now. We move along the path as the afternoon progresses, reaching Balor Hut after 6pm, after having fallen around 12.30. There is a time to rest and it is NOW! I would know by morning if i'd done any real damage.
Time passes. I wake in the wee hours and can see nothing. Not one photon. Fumble for the torch. Where the fork is it? I will stay calm, but will be seriously relieved when I can see something. Got it! Click. Nothing. "Shee-ite!" "OK stay calm." I lever myself up, hobble about, find the door, and see stars. Phew.
OK in brief.
Climbing on double ropes. A couple of moves away from setting up the belay for the third pitch, a bar fridge sized rock pulls, behind which is my top piece of pro. The block misses Gordon, does not cut either rope and explodes off the belay ledge and into the trees below. As I fall, I see my top piece in space in front of my eyes and I keep falling & hiting things & falling & etc.
Concussion, grazed and cut head, bruised and grazed shoulder, bruise foot and cracked talus. Lucky, Bloody lucky. We descend and eventually achieve the hut. There I crash for the night amid great concern from a group of Newcastle climbers, one of whom, thankfully, carries my pack out the next day.
We drive home to Armidale. Visit casualty. Have to remove the blood caked bandage scabbed to my scalp, in a shower, ith the stuff diluting and flowing and spattering, 'shower scene from psycho like' around the cubicle (the worst moment, because now I could allow myself an emotional response). It's too late to stitch the head, but Goedon's done a good job with the first aid. Thanks again.
I make it to work, and keep my rack.
You can kill yourself on a grade 13 climb.
When you fall off an easy climb, you hit rock, not space.
Helmets are a really good idea.