Thread of Life


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 1 - 21 of total 21 in this topic

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 9, 2009 - 10:29pm PT
Having just read Don Lauria's Leaning Tower last pitch epiphany about clipping into at least one of your jumars, never mind both, I offer the following. I am emboldened to produce this mea culpa by Don's honesty to admitting to being an aeronautical engineer yet temporarily bereft of common sense.

Thread of Life

I was never particularly mechanically inclined. Being raised by a single mother it wasn't as if we would spend the weekend under the hood of our '57 Chevy. Strangely, the Navy didn't seem to take any interest in ferreting out whether one knew which way to turn a screw when they deemed me worthy of flying the taxpayers' money. But I digress, sort of.

I was not long removed from my conflict with the Navy and bombing North Viet Nam when I decided to parlay the warrior's way into the self-indulgent climber's way. Another thing the Navy didn't seem inclined to delve into was what makes a young man the 'strong and silent type'. That wasn't cogent to flying off a carrier but in the development of a rock climber in the early '70's it was, at least in my case. The problem is that the 'strong and silents' don't like asking questions. If you also throw into the mix a decidedly shy or even reclusive nature then the climber's learning curve can begin to assume the takeoff profile of a F-4 Phantom. The big difference being, of course, that the F-4 has an ejection seat.

Since it appeared to me that learning to aid climb was a necessary evil I lurked about the fringes of the various campfires I was tolerated at and began to pick up enough knowledge to become truly dangerous. Then I went to the sporting goods shop down by the University Village (Seattle) that had a small corner devoted to climbing. It was run by John Marts who had a famous season in Chamonix a few years before and for some reason had taken a liking to me. I assumed it was because when I did talk I could almost stand up to John's famously acerbic wit. He even allowed me to belay him on the odd occassion. Now, of course, I realize I was more a case of "hire the handicapped, they're fun to watch". Anyway, I sidled up to the case and casually asked John to sell me a half dozen 1/4" bolts.

"Uh, you want hangers too, Reilly?"
"Uh, of course, John!"
"Sooo, you want some drills, too?"
"Uh, yeah, John, I think I'm getting low on drills. Oh, and I think I've misplaced my drill holder too so you better give me another of them."
"So, Reilly, what's the project, if I may be so bold?"
"Oh, John, nothin' much, I thought I might go solo a little line I saw up at Index."

To his credit John did a masterful job of not choking on his lunch sandwich. "Yeah? Cool! Let me know how it goes."
I slinked outta there like an 18 year old buying beer at the liquor store.

I fired up the '54 Hudson Commodore 6 and headed to Index. Now, in 1970 you didn't exactly queue up at the Lower Town Wall, especially mid-week. I found a not too terrifying crack far removed from prying eyes and geared up. I used my one new Jumar as my 'belay device'. Why the one new one? Because my other one I had found at the foot of something not too long before. Eventually I got myself about 80 or 90 feet up this crack and got it in my mind that this was a good place to learn to drill. As I got out my nice shiny holder and bit it dawned on me that it would have been a good idea to provide the holder with some sort of lanyard. This was why I was doing this far from prying eyes. The drilling went pretty well, I thought. I pulled one of the bolts out and congratulated myself on checking to see if I had drilled deeply enough. Check. I proceeded to hammer it home. It seemed reassuringly solid. Then I got out one of the nice new Leeper hangers and fumbled for a nut. Hmmm. Kind of hard getting this nut started after bashing the end of the bolt. I guess next time I should put the hanger and nut on first. Hmmm, next time I guess I should bring some kind of wrench also. Oh well, with leather gloves on the nut seemed pretty secure. I rigged my rappel and went to the ground. As I finished cleaning the pitch I was feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe I could really do this! I got to the 'station' and cleaned my last pin. It was getting on towards beer-thirty; I hadn't exactly gotten an alpine start and it had taken a while to gird my loins for the bolt-buying charade. I gazed upwards at the next pitch and thought it actually looked kind of fun. This was the life! I had the use of a house in Index and after a night of shooting pool and drinking with the loggers I would be back to burnish my rep tomorrow.

I got my rack all sorted out and set up my carabiner rappel set-up. I took all the slack out of the ropes and weighted them. I unclipped my etriers and stowed them. I re-checked my rappel and took one last look at my 'station'. The nut had come off the bolt. The Leeper hanger had slid all the way off the bolt and now rested in the next-to-last thread groove. Oh, for the love of a zero-zero ejection seat! I was in the ready to rappel position leaning backwards with my Robbins boots resting on a couple of 5.8 footholds. The crack I had nailed was to my left. There was a flake that came down to its left from above and curved horizontally about level with my elbow. I turned my left hand thumb down and outwards and shoved it behind the flake. It was a locker but very awkward. As I pulled myself into a vertical position and weighted my feet the Leeper fell into my lap. The next problem was that my rack was under my left arm. I had to lean backwards to give myself enough room for my right hand to grope around towards the back of the rack where the larger pins were. I unclipped an 1-1/2" angle and shoved it upwards under the flake next to my hand. While my hand was pretty well locked I didn't feel like the pin was worth a damn and furthermore I couldn't see it. To quell the rising tide of panic I forced myself to actually pull the pin out and re-rack it! Then I groped all the way around to the back of the rack and got the last pin I had cleaned. I shoved it into the crack below my left armpit. I couldn't swing the hammer so I wrapped my fingers around the head and backhanded it. Luckily, the biners on the Leeper were right there to clip the pin. My memory pretty much goes blank at this point but I think I actually rapped off the single pin. It doesn't matter. I distinctly recall my legs were unable to support my arrival to the ground. They did support me until closing time at the Index bar. I'd never before felt such a kinship for the loggers there. For that matter on the walk back to the house I felt a kinship for the leaves on the trees that I had almost provided compost for. Despite the kinship for all things bright and beautiful it was not a good night's sleep.

John, thanks for not spewing your lunch all over the counter.


Trad climber
El Frickin' Paso
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:35pm PT
Lynne Leichtfuss

Social climber
valley center, ca
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:40pm PT
Writing about the things that mean so much to you or change your life is pretty darn special. Writing is a superlative form of communication .... in my humble opinion. Lynnie

Great job at writing, Reilly ! Peace and Joy ... Lynnie
adam d

Feb 9, 2009 - 11:14pm PT
great story!

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Feb 10, 2009 - 01:11am PT
hahaha, soo good.

"I slinked outta there like an 18 year old buying beer at the liquor store"

been there done that on both counts
John Moosie

Beautiful California
Feb 10, 2009 - 01:38am PT
Oh man. Thanks for sharing that. Good story. Good writing.

Feb 10, 2009 - 04:25am PT
Please tell us more, sometime.

There is something about Steve Marts at the back of my mind.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 10, 2009 - 11:44am PT
Holy Shizzle Reilly!!!

You got my palms all sweaty, and that's not easy to do.

You should definitely do more writing on here!!

I barely survived being a beginner in the mid-70's myself, so you brought a lot of scary stuff right up to the front of my mind. Thank you for the nightmares I'll have tonight.

I loved climbing around Leavenworth as a youngster too.
Castle Rock, but even more notably Dragontail Peak.
SERPENTINE RIDGE! (With the magic mushroom finish...whooo man..)

Is that serious about bombing in the Nam?

One of my first threads was "Beginner, Near Death Epic Tales"
I wish this was in it. It didn't get much traction from the big boys.....

I will shamelessly bump this thread.
scuffy b

just below the San Andreas
Feb 10, 2009 - 12:13pm PT
Just Wonderful.

Trad climber
boulder, co.
Feb 10, 2009 - 12:59pm PT

That was a great sweaty hand read. Thank you Reilly!

"To quell the rising tide of panic I forced myself to actually pull the pin out and re-rack it!"

That line rang like a gong to me because of all that it succinctly captures and embodies.

Trad climber
Portland, Or
Feb 10, 2009 - 01:04pm PT
Excellent read. A bit too familiar-- brings back some similar memories of my own Pac NW early climbing experiences...

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 10, 2009 - 01:08pm PT
Thanks for the kind words. I actually got sweaty hands typing it. Yes, this is from my series "Almost Tales from the Crypt-Dufous learns to climb"
Philo, I have to say I really enjoyed your Red Rocks series-exceptionally well written.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 10, 2009 - 01:43pm PT
I wonder how many of us, with much more experience than in Reilly's tale, have nevertheless
leaned back to rap and had that "Uh-oh!" panic recognition -- just a second before it was too late --
that we'd done something wrong.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 10, 2009 - 01:49pm PT
Damn Larry, you're clairvoiant or a savant....or something.

I was just going to add that it's not just noobs.

Two years ago I was beginning to lean back on rap and realized that I wasn't fully rigged. Dumbsh*t, got halfway through my set-up, got distracted by something else, forgot to finish.

Could have been disastrous. 30+ years of experience no less, and I'm usually so good about double checking....

Buggs was there too.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 10, 2009 - 01:57pm PT
I was rapping off a desert bush, which was right in my face so it was hard to see how the
rope went. Stepped down to a foothold and started to lean back, when I suddenly saw
that instead of threading both of our two ropes through my ATC, I had threaded one rope
and the tail of the other (there being 2-foot tails for safety with our Euro Death Knot).
So about two feet into the rap, if I'd proceeded, it woulda been free fall.

The sheer carelessness of this mistake appalled me. Contributing factors -- I was
rapping last of the three in our party, it was the last of 8 or so rappels, and my two partners
were already on the ground. So it kinda felt like relaxation time already, when of course
it was not!

Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Feb 10, 2009 - 02:03pm PT
I had an oh-sheet experience last winter. I was getting in a quick lunch time solo of an ice climb. I rigged up my soloist, set off and followed my typical routine of placing ice screws and clipping as I went. I managed to get all the way to the belay before finding out I'd rigged the soloist backwards, i.e. I'd anchored the slack line and if I'd peeled it would have been a grounder.

I've had a few other cases of the stupids over the years.

Trad climber
New York, NY
Feb 10, 2009 - 02:15pm PT

hahaha - I like the part about being in the blackout getting yourself out of the nighmare.

Interestingly, I had a friend tell me a pretty gripping story of hers, and she, too, could not recall a thing from the moments between realizing she had "got to get out of there alive" and of finding herself actually still alive(and out of there).

When I mentioned it to another person he said, simply, "Shock." But now that I think about it, he said it in a way that maybe he knew that sensation from his own experiences.

Trad climber
boulder, co.
Feb 10, 2009 - 02:16pm PT
Reilly thank you for the kind words on my stories but you need to know that your story has real meat to it and wings to fly.
I for one, and I know I am not alone, would love to read more from you.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 10, 2009 - 02:49pm PT
Phil echo! Same here Reilly. What a great read.
We have tons of blatherers on here,(me included?)
and then there are occasional gems of real quality story telling. (Yours)

Chiloe, it's nice to know that we are not alone in our "oh sh*t" moments. It's just that they could be so permanent.


Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 10, 2009 - 04:07pm PT


Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 11, 2009 - 12:39am PT
Reilly starting his famous rap job!

Messages 1 - 21 of total 21 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Trip Report and Articles
Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews