One thing I've learned from climbing and life and Andrew Bisharat: There is no such thing as safe. This doesn't just apply to adventure sports or adrenaline-junkies. This applies to literally everything in life. Relationships, financial security, etc. Nothing is 100% safe. I'm not suggesting we go through life constantly assuming the worst, but that we respect the fragile and dynamic nature of life. Deep, right?
The picture to the left illustrates incorrect draws (left) and correct draws (right). Note that on the left side, the carabiner only passes through the black rubber loop, and not the sling/dogbone (the fabric part, which is tested to withstand a certain amount of force). When Tito fell, the weight and force caused the black rubber piece to snap, which happened on multiple draws, and he fell to the ground. The black rubber piece is simply there to keep the carabiner from moving around in the sling.
Bisharat discusses that we need to not "make this into something that it's not." This is not about reckless parenting skills or whether or not we should let young children climb. This is not about pointing fingers. This is about the inherent un-safety of life. This is about the fact that we are human beings and human beings make mistakes. This is about a shitty set of circumstances that led to the end of a young boy's life.
I've seen a lot of crazy things happen climbing indoors and outdoors. Crazy in the sense that someone could have easily died or did actually get hurt.
- I've forgotten to double-back the leg loops on my harness. Luckily, everything was fine and no one got hurt.
- I've witnessed a climber get stranded on an outdoor wall while rappelling down post-climb. He was stuck on a ledge for 2-3 hours while other climbers had to help retrieve the rope so he could finish his descent. Luckily, everything was fine and no one got hurt.
- I've witness and assisted a belayer who got distracted and forgot to put her climber on belay. He was climbing indoors at his limit and I had to run over and put him on belay only moments before he fell. Luckily, everything was fine and no one got hurt.
- I have dropped my climbing partner when he was climbing a lead route indoors. I was distracted and will never let it happen again. Luckily, it was only a few feet, everything was fine, and no one got hurt.
- I've witness strangers climbing outside and looping their rope through a bolt in the rock. If the individual fell, the bolt would most likely cut through the rope like butter. I didn't see what happened, and maybe nothing happened. But ultimately, I have no idea if everything was fine or if anyone got hurt.
- I've heard the first-hand story of someone falling outside from 80-feet all the way to the ground. This happened because of miscommunication. Everything is fine, now. But at the time he was very seriously injured. Very luckily, he didn't die.
- Finally, many people know of John Long's injury at Rockreation Climbing Gym in Los Angeles. This man, one of the original Stonemasters of climbing, had gone decades without an injury of this magnitude. He fell 20 feet from the top of the route because he had forgotten to finish tying his knot. He got hurt very badly, but he is alive. Hopefully, with much physical therapy, everything will eventually be fine.
A lot of these are simple mistakes that occurred because of miscommunication or distractions. As Andrew wrote "No one goes out to a sport-climbing crag carrying the acceptance that they may die that day. No one." Shit happens. The only thing we can do is religiously double-check ourselves, our partners, and our equipment.
Climbing is exhilarating. But it's also inherently dangerous. It is irresponsible to be a climber and not completely understand the risk associated with the sport.
My thoughts continue to go to Tito and his family. It was an devastating tragedy. All we can do now is try to learn from what happened and apply it to our everyday practices.
This post is dedicated to my friend Mollie, who always reminds me to double-check each other before every climb and insists on using all the appropriate climbing commands. Thank you, Mollie!