Rockclimbers Preparing to Ascend

In a Split Second…

I had to use my Wilderness First Responder training a few months ago when a single piece of protection popped out of the wall, and my friend fell 30 feet and decked out. He’s okay, thankfully.

My buddies and I were climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. We’d spent the day working our way from the North 40 to Titanic then to Prophecy Wall where we spent ourselves trying to red point “Learning to Fly.” Problem was, we left 2 pieces of protection hanging from bolts we could no longer reach.

We looked around for a breakdown to the top of the crag so we would set up a rappel down and clean up our gear. And we found one: a significant off-width crack we didn’t have gear big enough for but that  you could squeeze into up the middle of a do-able dihedral. Thirty feet up there was a boulder to work around then an easy 20-foot walk up to top out. Problem resolved.

We wished. We spotted Galen as he free climbed the first thirty, taking precaution to shove his arm and leg far into the crack. At the boulder, however, he stalled. He was very aware that he was exposed and unprotected.

“I really wish I could place some pro.”

Who wants to say, No! That’s not a good idea. So we kept eyes on and hands up as he searched for someplace to set an anchor. He finally found a small, wet crack that seemed to hold a cam when he tested it. So he clipped in, and I went on belay at the end other end of the rope as he looked for another placement.

Too late.

I’d just clipped in and looked up to see him coming off the wall. I ran backward to take up the slack. Felt his weight land on the rope. …then it was gone.

The cam popped out of the wall.

He was falling.

Hero complex or risk management minded, I regularly envision what I might do in an imminent crisis like this: throw myself forward to check the fall, throw a crash pad under his fall line. It happened too fast.

I fell on my own ass from the slack in the rope and watched as Galen’s body hit the ground 10 feet away.

We scrambled up to where he started to roll in an effort to stand back up. Natural inclination. I’ve been there, and I knew to have him lay still as I gave him a head-t0-toe assessment. He complained of pain in abdomen and had mentioned a previous back injury. With a wife and 2 kids at home depending upon him, he accepted my recommendation to be airlifted out of the canyon and flown to a Fayetteville hospital. After several tests, he thankfully walked out with nothing more than internal bruising.

Take home: in this case it was Galen, and I cannot express how glad and lucky we are. That incident happened in a split second. There is no time when the emergency happens to think through how you’re going to act. There is only moments after the emergency when you have an opportunity to choose how to respond.

Galen and us started up that breakdown hoping for the best, and when he fell, there was no time to wing it. I’m glad I had medical training. My buddy and his family are glad he lived with a few bruises. But it could have gone any other direction.

Whether you’re thinking about your next adventure or your favorite armchair, a house fire or climate disaster, please take time to prepare: be informed, make a plan, build a kit, and get involved. It’s part of the adventure to prepare. When–not if–you’re adventure includes an emergency, you’ll be ready.

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