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Most REAL experiences climbing

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We all have epics and do shit on the mountain that's changed us for the better or worse. What's the most real experience you have had while climbing? By real I mean something that made you come to terms with your own existence or completely ground you in the moment. Ticking the summit is cool and sexy but pants-shitting pitches while your hands feel like wood are more real to me.

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Great idea for a thread!

I have a some good (?) stories that I will try and post as I have time.  The first that came to mind was falling unroped (with the rope) into a 'schrund on the NE couloir on Colchuck around 2000.  My partner (who didn't fall in), was my soon-to-be wife.

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Great idea.  I always learn so much by my own and other people's mistakes. 

1. I used to girth hitch the little cord of my point and shoot camera into a sling so as to prevent from accidentally dropping it.  Then one day about 5 pitches up on SEWS I looked down to see that I had clipped into that little camera cord as my tether at the anchor.  Someone I grabbed the main sling but instead of clipping into the end of it I clipped into the carmera cord at the end.  Needless to say I don't ever tether my camera by a sling anymore.....

 

2. I had a friend fall and die while climbing with a new partner on a long multipitch route.  They were climbing above their ability but their new partner didn't realize it.  At the time, I was climbing with a lot of new people on bigger routes as well.  I realized that I could have easily been my friend's "new climbing partner" in that scenario.  It is so hard to tell someone's actual level of experience from a hike up to a cliff/mountain.  I had previously thought that as long as I was solid at whatever grade we were doing it didn't matter.  But after a lot of reflection I decided that wasn't true.  If I was climbing with someone of less ability they could want to "hold up their end of the partnership" by leading, routefinding etc.  But what if they are way in over their heads, and I don't know it because I don't know them as a person or their past experience.  Now days I want to spend a day cragging or just get to know someone as a friend before getting into a big route together.

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15 minutes ago, mthorman said:

Now days I want to spend a day cragging or just get to know someone as a friend before getting into a big route together.

This is a very important message for those climbers who are just getting keen.  It will serve them well.

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I'm in total agreement with vetting partners.  When I was still pretty new, I had a brand new partner freak out 2 pitches off the deck at Index.  I had lead up to anchor #3 and he was terrified of an undercling traverse under a roof and refused to attempt it.  I had no clue what to do.  The wind was blowing and of course a train went by while we were trying to communicate which just added more stress to the situation.   I had to figure out how to lower him back to anchor #2 and rappel back down to him.  Fortunately it was a shorter pitch so he was able to stay tied in to the end of the rope while I rapped over the roof and made a big swing in under the roof and grabbed the anchor. 

I have a couple of other experiences with new partners that were lucky to get out of without an actual epic.  It is challenging when you're new and assume everyone else must be more proficient and capable.  

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Posted (edited)

Not climbing but...

When I was 19 a friend and I went out to ski Mt Herman on a day with considerable avalanche danger. We were young and eager. Ignoring natural avalanche activity on the way up, we stuck to our original plan of skiing down the trees on the skiers left side of the main gut on the south east face rather than skiing back down the skin track like we should have. When I dropped in to the gut I cut off a thick wind slab that swept down all the way to the valley floor.

Unbeknownst to me, my friend and local hardcore, Woods was boot packing up the gut solo at the time that I triggered the slab. Woods was taken by the slide, carried several hundred feet and somehow with incredible luck swept out onto a bench where he stopped. Fortunately he was uninjured.

That day I learned that if you do not adjust the plan based on observations or if you don't allow new information to factor into your plan you can get killed or get your friends killed real fast.

Fortunately, I haven't had a total near death epic while climbing but I can think of some other scary and humbling moments in climbing that perhaps I will share later.

Edited by BK9
typo

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1. Down soloing the W Ridge of Inspiration in the Pickets after a day of soloing choss. I got off route and cut feet climbing down an overhanging prow. Luckily all the holds held my weight. Then I dislodged several large blocks just above the schrund and pinned my foot. I was able to shove them off and simultaneously lunge out of the way as they came down. I was pretty f*#%ing done with sketch ball shit for a while after that, but surprisingly still hung it out more than I should have for a few years.

2. Rapping off Waddington with a core shot rope that we had to cut and having to build some not-inspiring additional rap anchors, including one on a scary detached flake with no other options that we used to rap a full 30 m free hanging section to get over the schrund onto the upper Bravo Glacier.

3. Final hard aid pitch on RNWF of Half Dome by headlamp and taking an upside down whipper when a small cam blew out of a pin scar. Then having to go up there again, re-place the cam, put a foot in the cam's sling and stand on that one foot balanced against the blank rock to clip the next piece with that cam at mid-shin.

4. Taking my wife up a 5.7 R route called Amphetamine Grip at Smith which I had never done (thought it would be fun for her on TR) and ended up having my last piece (crap nut) pop out leaving me a full 30m above my last piece on blank slab for the crux top-out moves. At the time I was only on-sighting about 5.9 consistently so it felt pretty heady.

5. Gerber-Sink after a 6" dump with crazy spindrift as one of my first technical winter routes was full-on.

6. Climbing Cali Ice in the Beartooths with skis on the pack this past winter with gnarly spindrift conditions felt real. So did climbing Twisted in 60mph winds in the Canadian Rockies this past season. 

7. Climbing Rime Dog on I-Rock on a day that ended up being unexpectedly warm and heavily rimed conditions. I think we placed two pieces in 4 pitches. Belays were just standing on rime mushrooms and the belayer was supposed to jump off the other side if the leader fell. 

I could think of others but that's the initial few that come to mind...

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On 5/21/2020 at 4:06 PM, BK9 said:

That day I learned that if you do not adjust the plan based on observations or if you don't allow new information to factor into your plan you can get killed or get your friends killed real fast.

Another great lesson learned, thankfully without much damage.

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By far the "most real" experiences for me involve exploring new terrain. There's nothing quite like it. Things rarely go as planned, senses are heightened. I put some of the stories in TRs here on cc.com in case you want to read them. Some of the greatest rewards I've found in climbing are the partnerships and friendships I've formed. 

On the personal level, I grow and improve when I've pushed a little beyond what I thought was possible. These are the climbs where I couldn't sleep beforehand because I kept going over them in my head. An early one was the Inverted Staircase on Fairview. Another was a mini Pickets traverse, where I learned the importance of real bivy gear, hydration, and not pushing too many envelopes at once. 

I've tried not to put myself in 'if you screw up you die' scenarios, but somehow I've ended up there a few times anyway. On Phobos in Tuolumne back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was feeling the pump on the twin crack pitch. I couldn't easily get a piece of gear in and was getting flamed fiddling with gear, so I gunned it for the anchors, running it out 25 -30 feet while redlining. I probably would have landed on my partner, so fortunately I didn't fall. 

Some experiences lead to gear-related lessons. Bring gloves if you think you might be bushwhacking in the PNW: 

I've learned and re-learned to always bring a headlamp and a backup or extra batteries. Hopefully I'm done learning this lesson! Experiences range from minor inconvenience to crawling down the Upper Cathedral gully in pitch darkness to trying to rap with my family with only a cell phone for light between 4 of us: 

 

I''ve certainly made my share of mistakes. Thankfully none have involved major injury or death. I've tried to learn from my own experiences as well as from my partners. Reading ANAM is a good thing to do as well. I've observed in all of these that most accidents aren't the result of bold free soloing, they come from simple and preventable errors, often an assumption is made without verifying that it is true. Rappeling versus being lowered by your belayer. Clipped into the anchor properly versus wrong or not at all. Off route. Rope reaches the ground. And so forth.

Pay attention and communicate. Your life and that of your partners depends on it.

Come back in one piece, try hard, and have fun!

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Oddly this weekend I was sorting through stuff and read through a log I kept whilst making my second attempt on the East Buttress of Denali. Probably one of the most real and most humbling experiences because I had to call for the rescue after my partner and I were avalanched by a collapsing serac. I compare that experience to having a couple of semi trailers full of bowling balls dumped on ya. I was in the better place so my partner took the brunt of it as well as being dumped in to crevasse. After schlepping him out and back to a safe location I had to go back up solo through crevasses and retrieve gear, then call for a rescue. We got short hauled off with no assistance (a first on Denali). That was a wild ride but with great views. Eight years later I returned and did the Cassin, I remember our bivy at 15,500 on the face and with the feeling of just being out there.

That said, what has been the most real are the partnerships. Egging each other on, or saying fuck it lets go drink beer. Either way we're happy.

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I fell off of the Girth Pillar. That was really real and really sucky.  

 

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2 hours ago, DPS said:

I fell off of the Girth Pillar. That was really real and really sucky.  

 

Is that when you left your neutrino there?

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I've had quite a few...

Top 5:

1. Nearly killing Jens Holsten with rockfall after the belay ledge I was standing on broke and sent a couple refrigerator sized blocks which turned into thousands of chunks of flying schrapnel towards him on the last rap off of DOE after climbing and scrubbing it over two days prepping it for the FFA which Jens sent the next day.

2. FA'ing the Kittly Litter Direct pitch on the Dissapearing Floor Route on Mt. Hardy with Jimbo Shokes. Ran it out 50--60ft on 10- terrain before a harrowing mantle with my hands dug into kitty litter gravel.

3. Catching a 30ft whipper 1/3 of the way up the Jaded Lady on Mt. Hooker when Matty Van Biene took a wrong turn and powered up a steep flake system which eventually  broke off. He was just going for it way run out on steep overhanging 11+/12- terrain. Went on to finish the route taking about 16 hours of which the last 4 were spend climbing wet 5.10 offwidth in the dark, then shiver bivying on top until sunrise.  

4. Shiverer bivering with Blake and Jens after sending the FA of GITM: https://www.bluewaterropes.com/blog/shiverer-bivering-the-f-a-of-gorillas-in-the-mist-2/attachment/shiverer-bivering-the-fa-of-gorillas-in-the-mist-2/

5. Somehow not dying by jumping off the belay ledge when Blake broke off a large block above me on Inspiration: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web14x/wfeature-picket-range-herrington-wertkin-best-pitch

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Hmm. Both events I think of are rather involved tales. Coming untied 1800 feet off the deck as it was almost dark on an early ascent of The Happy Hooker V 5.10 A3 on Trono Blanco in Northern Baja was the peak moment of a very formative climb which included a monster fall leading my first aid pitch ever. Being on Mt Rainier with Willi Unsoeld when he and student Janie Diepenbrock died in an avalanche was pretty influential also. They're both kind of magazine article length stories perhaps best told over a campfire.

 

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15 hours ago, Rad said:

Is that when you left your neutrino there?

Very funny. Nolse emailed and asked for beta before he went up the Girth Pillar. I told him I was not a good person to ask.

 

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If by "real" you mean experiences where you are really present in the moment because things have gone sideways, I've had a few. Thankfully no major injuries or deaths. One was when a long time partner and friend set off to lead that last pitch on Moby Grape on Cannon Cliff. He got stuck below a corner running with water and set up a belay to bring me up to see the situation for myself so we could decide what to do. Unfortunately, he set up the belay in the running water and was quickly becoming wet and hypothermic. It was twilight and we had about 30 minues before dark. I had to do a series of aid and free moves up that soaking steep corner quickly to get us out of there before we got in real trouble. That was my first time doing more than one or two moves of aid, and my inexperience heightened an already tense situation. Fortunately it all worked out. I remember crawling into the shrubbery at the summit just as it got dark and quickly setting up a spider web anchor to bring up my partner. We got him into dry clothes and walked down in the dark together via the top of the Old Man of the Mountain. Tragedy narrowly averted.

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Jason will remember this.....

NE Rib/Buttress of J’berg. We’d just started up the “Becky 4th class” rock section above the steep heather. Our partner opted for the easy chossy variation rather than take the awkward chimney. Well above his last good piece something comes loose and he starts sliding off the mountain, shouting out- STOP ME! Fortunately, a fixed pin he’d clipped held, and it was an easy catch. I’d estimate he fell a good 30’. In the brief time before he determined that he was basically OK, I realized just how serious the situation would be if he had been really hurt. As is, he was able to complete the route and hobble out with a very badly bruised thigh.

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A number of years ago, I hiked up to Camp Shurman with some friends. There were four of us: myself and my friend Fred, who had glacier experience, and a guy from Fred’s work and the guy’s wife or girlfriend (I forget which) who had no experience. We roped up hiking over the Interglacier, despite the dozens of other folks we saw not roped up. Lunch at Camp Shurman, then headed down, and decided not to rope up, because travelling roped with inexperienced people is frustrating, and anyhow, it’s a “dead” glacier, right?

We were nearly across the glacier, a hundred feet from rock when, right ahead of me, Fred punched through into a crevasse, his rope securely stowed in his pack. He instinctively caught himself by his elbows, and his feet were dangling, he said later, over what looked like a very deep hole.

I was just a few feet behind him; I plopped down on my butt with my feet in front of me to brace myself, and reached my ice axe out to him. He grabbed it and I pulled him out, the other guy (I don’t remember his name) pulling on my back.

It wasn’t wasn't until the adrenaline rush subsided that I grasped just how horrible that could have been. We had no rope: it was in his pack. There weren’t very many others around by that time, as I recall there were only a few folks off in the distance.

Overall, a cheap lesson not to screw around with glacier safety.

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