by Howard Replogle

Don Barnett on top of Ranger Rock

Don Barnett with Sentinel Rock in background. Taken from the top of “Ranger Rock” on Sunday, the day before Don fell to his death on Lower Cathedral Rock.


This is an account of a rock climbing accident in Yosemite National Park. Don Barnett, my friend and climbing partner, was killed in a fall.  I was uninjured but suffered a year of PTSD from a prolonged and terrifying experience.  Don had been climbing for about five years and had taken several climbing classes at Yosemite Mountaineering School.  He was a real cerebral guy; a genius with computers, and loved to play chess.  He loved to climb too but I think the appeal for him was more romantic than physical.  We had met at work and stayed friends when I moved on in my career.  I started climbing three months before this accident with Don as my instructor.  And I continued to climb for many years after the accident and eventually became quite good at the sport.  We were both in excellent physical condition from pre-season weight lifting, racquetball, jogging, and climbing on rocks closer to home in the SF East Bay.  Don owned a substantial amount of technical equipment and literature on the subject.  He was a data processing manager; I was an accountant.  We were both married with children and in our late thirties.

My first writing of this account in May, 1984 was only the technical aspects of the accident and directed at climbers for instructional purposes.  (See Climbing Accidents at Yosemite, Granite Press; and Accidents in North American Mountaineering, The American Alpine Club; for analysis of this and other climbing accidents.)  The second writing a couple months later was for the benefit of interested non-climbers, Don's and my family and friends, and to satisfy my compulsion to get it all down in writing.  I revised the story in 2007 for a general audience.  I strongly suggest that non-climbers read the glossary first.  I have also apended a short explanation of climbing grades to this story which might aid in clarification.

This was my first trip to Yosemite as an adult so we spent Saturday exploring the spectacular valley.  Don was my tour guide and I was awestruck by both the majesty of the place and the climbing possibilities.  We camped in the park and climbed Ranger Rock on Sunday (see the picture of Don on the peak) and Lower Cathedral Rock on Monday (the location of the accident).  While climbing Ranger Rock we ran into one of Don’s climbing instructors Don Reid who recommended the “Overhang Bypass” route on Lower Cathedral Rock, adjacent to Bridal Veil Falls.


Bridal Veil Falls
View from road of Bridal Vail Falls and Overhang Bypass route (inset).

We started looking for the route before Don’s truck had fully stopped.  I was excited that we were to finally climb some­thing of some significance.  Bridal Veil Falls was a popular tourist stop and could be seen and photographed from a distance.  The route according to the guide book is “airy and exposed.”  Which can be interpreted as “thrilling” to climbers, “scary” to non-climbers.  It would be an all day effort with an ascent of around 800 vertical feet.  The previous ­day's route on Ranger Rock had been fun; but it had seemed short, and not spectacular (except for the view from the peak).

The difficulty rating of the "Overhang Bypass" route was class 5.6.  Since we hadn't brought a photocopy of the route map to carry with us, I traced it from our guidebook onto a scrap of paper.  We could see the route but finding the approach was difficult.

We stashed some excess gear behind some rocks and headed in the general direction of the route.  The approach would turn into much more of an undertaking than we had expected.

Topo Map of Route

This is the topographic route map that I traced before we climbed.  The circled letters are recommended belay stances.  We climbed route "B" but descended route "C"

Equipment included: climbing shoes, swami belts, chalk bags, and belay plates each. Don's rack held assorted nuts and stoppers, 3 friends, 2 tri-cams, and assorted slings with carabineers.  I carried the pack with my camera and boots, some band aids and adhesive tape, granola bars and raisins, a quart of water, and Don's 50 meter rope.

It must have been around 10 a.m. when we headed up.  Most good climbing routes necessitate some amount of effort in the form of an approach.  Some, much more than others.  Yosemite is famous for it’s accessibility to quality climbing and this particular route had only a medium difficult approach, but we nevertheless had trouble finding our way.

Since the map didn't show the approach, we read and re-read the approach directions in a smaller guide book that Don carried in his pocket.

After about 200 feet elevation change, we felt a little lost, but we could still have been on route.  Another 100 feet and we changed direction.  Twice we started up sections that turned from walking to climbing and then hard climbing which indicated that we were off of the regular approach.  We backtracked through the talus enough times to be disappointed with our progress.

At one point I could see and hear the tourists at the falls observation deck.  I think I was in the sun for the first time that day.  It felt good even though I was warmed from our approach.  We decided that we were probably not on the regular approach but that we would eventually find the climb.  Parts of the route were occasionally coming into view but we were going to have to rope up for safety much sooner than we expected.  Twice we encountered some nasty biting ants that seemed to cover us and then bite us all at once.  This can be a real distraction when both of your hands are too busy climbing to brush them off.  At one point Don became quite agitated at catching his shirt in a bush.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

Photo of Route
Inset from previous photo. The dotted line marks the Overhang Bypass Route. The overhang is in the center of the photo, directly below the large dihedral. The correction was made when I returned two years later and re-climbed the route.

"I'm concerned about the hour.  The descent is supposed to be as bad as the approach and we're not even to the climb yet."

It must have been between one and three.  A beautiful day.  'It would sure be a disappointment to turn back,' I thought. Neither of us suggested it.  We swung leads for speed and were finally on fairly solid rock.

On one pitch, I led a long section with few opportunities for gear placement.  In the middle of it I was attacked by biting ants with such intensity that I climbed past a good crack without placing a piece of protection.  It was not difficult climbing, but fairly exposed and I ran out around 25 feet.  A 25 foot lead with no protection can expose you to a 50 foot fall.  And this was only my second day of leading.  Sometimes, overemphasis of precautions can increase your exposure rather than limit it.  But it’s important to avoid 50 foot falls.

We finally arrived at the actual “climb” around 3 p.m. and we really should have retreated.  Instead we were irresponsibly optimistic and thought the short route would go fast and route finding on the descent would not be the problem it had been on the approach.  Anyway, we forged ahead.  I still had on my long underwear and annoyed Don by taking the time to change into my shorts.

Don led the "first" pitch and placed his smallest “friend” so deep into a crack that I gave up trying to retrieve it as I followed (a $40 loss). I led next and thoroughly enjoyed the climbing.  It was moderately difficult (for the novice I was), exposed, high quality rock, and scenic. Once, I climbed about 30 feet past a turn in the route, and decided to belay Don from where I was and to down climb after he had climbed to the turn in the route.

I called him up. When he got to the turn in the route he wanted to come up to where I was.  Which would have compounded my error.

"There's nothing up here," I said, "This isn't the way."

He said, "Well what do you want me to do?" with an angry tone.

I replied, "I want you to take in the rope and put me on belay as I down climb to you."

The next thing he did, didn’t make sense.  I had 135 feet of rope and instead of stacking it next to him, he rigged it through his belay plate and started pulling all 135 feet through the plate… a difficult and unnecessary process.

I didn't want to insult him and I figured he'd realize the mistake and take it out of the plate. But he didn't. He kept pulling it through.  He was frustrated, jerking the rope because the belay plate was jamming.  Finally I said, "Don, just take it out of the plate and stack it," and he said "OK."  He realized right away that his student was right.  So eventually I climbed down to him.

The switch to the right went up a bit to some little trees and then sloped down a little . . . it was in fact the route.  I said, "I'll lead up this thing.  If this is the ledge, what should I find?  Let me see the map."

He said, "I've already looked at the map.  There should be a ledge with trees on it and a walk-off."  I asked again and he said, "I've looked at the map; just do it!"

I led up and across the ledge, moving fast, but protecting with the little trees, and I came to the top of the big dihedral.  There was a 5.6 to 5.7 face above me and I was looking for something easier.  Don knew there was more climbing but I hadn't looked at the map in a while and was confused . . . I thought there was a ledge “walk-off” but I was wrong. He meant “walk-off to a face climb” and I thought he meant “walk-off the whole route.”  So I went all the way to the big dihedral and at the top there was a rock with some webbing and a rappel ring.  I thought we were completely off-course and this wasn't the ledge at all.  I had a feeling of foreboding and the whole vicinity looked somehow ominous to me.  I took one look ever the edge, and one quick look up for a route.  There was nothing but sheer faces either way.  So I turned and started my retreat before yelling "Rope!" to Don for my belay.

We had been having trouble talking to each other all day . . . the sound of the waterfall made it twice as hard.  It was Spring and the rivers were full.  Beautiful to watch but an impediment to climbers who had to shout at each other.  We were tired and hungry and thirsty and it was clear that Don was annoyed and his annoyance seemed to be with me.

I got him to pull the rope back and went back to where I could yell down to him and said, "This isn't the way.  All that's over there is that big book."  He was clearly angry.

When I got to him he pulled the map out and said, "Of course it's the book; that's right where the book is supposed to be . . . you were right on route . . . you should have stayed there and belayed me over!"

We had never argued on a climb before. I said, "I'm sorry, I was confused. You lead; I'll do whatever you want."  He was the knowledgeable climber, I was just leading to learn how to lead.

At this point Don complained of being thirsty and he was starting to look thirsty so I said, "Here, take the water."  We'd been trying to conserve it.  So he drank the few swallows left.

Don led back across the ledge and he was really hurrying.  He stopped 20 feet or so before the top of the book and I joined him.  The sun was down now and light had faded to where our vision was starting to be affected.  Don tried climbing up the face, got 20 or 25 feet, decided it was too dark to climb and came down.

Don was rational all along but he was getting a little frantic.  We really hurried across the ledge. I told him at one point that this shouldn't be so desperate.  I also suggested we could just sit down and spend the night.  He replied it would be "awfully damn cold” and I figured he was right about that.  It had been freezing at night in the valley.

At one point he said, "We ‘gotta get off this rock," but I think he meant off of the steep part, onto the fourth class slope.  There was no way we were going to get all the way down in the light.  I think we both knew that now.  It was around six p.m. and dusk.



We decided against all good sense to rappel the big dihedral.  Rappels are usually made with a doubled rope so it can be retrieved from the bottom by pulling one end.  In fact, that’s what rappel means, “to take back.”  Don looked for the center mark of the rope.  He couldn't find it so I looked with him.  The tape marker had come off.

"That's OK," I said. "They don't have to be exactly equal."

Unbeknownst to us, this dihedral was about a hundred feet tall and vertical; way too long for our doubled 50 meter rope.  It was actually an alternate climbing route called “Overhang Overpass,” but much more difficult than our “Overhang Bypass” route.  It’s difficulty rating is 5.11c, an ability level that I would approach after many years of climbing and training, but never quite attain.  The original route map, but not my traced copy, had a tiny arrow to indicate the proper rappel route.  It would have required only a short back track on the ledge for a much safer decent.  It was a major error to rappel this dihedral.  That, and our now rapid loss of daylight, set the stage for a horrific experience at best, and the loss of both of our lives at the worst.

Don pulled the rope through the rappel ring until it looked about center.  The 1" nylon sling and metal rappel ring both looked new and strong. The sling was wrapped around a big anchor rock 3 or 4 times.  A couple of much older and weathered slings were laying on the ground.

There was some discussion about whether to have both rope ends in one big knot or a separate knot in each rope. The ends of a rappel rope are always knotted to prevent the rappeler from sliding off the end in case he runs out of rope before he runs out of cliff.  I wanted separate knots. It seemed to me that if we had misjudged the center we could slip a little of the long end through the belay plate.

Don knotted one end of the rope while I knotted the other. Don looked at my knot, commented that "that isn't enough" and re-tied it himself with a longer tail.  He then threw each end off and felt their weight. Next he picked up both ropes and bent them to pass through a belay plate. He looked at me and said, "Who's going first?"  He wasn’t happy.  In fact he looked grim.

I volunteered immediately.  I wanted to appease him.

As I roped up, Don asked, "What if the rope isn't long enough?"

"I don't know," I answered. I thought the dihedral was only about 60 feet.  I really didn't have a plan if that happened, but it occurred to me that since the rope was doubled there was plenty of extra because a single rope would have been plenty.  Then again, I thought the doubled rope would reach.  He didn't offer a solution.  Even though he had asked an important question, it went unanswered.

I walked to the edge, turned, jerked the rope once to test the anchor, and started to back off.

I think we both knew by now that we were doing something very dangerous; but for some reason we kept going.  The prospect of spending the night so exposed, and just dumb optimism that nothing bad would happen to us kept us going.  I would never again proceed with such an idiotic plan.  But it was a costly lesson.

Don said, "If you need me to pull either end of the rope, let me know."

I nodded, took a step back and said, "This is the TOP rope," as I lifted the rope highest on my belay plate.  I gestured and repeated; "The TOP rope."  I had never “named” a rope end before, and haven’t since, but for some reason I guessed that we might need to identify this particular ropes ends.

Photo of Dihedral
Close-up of the 100 foot dihedral and the ledge over the overhang. The ledge shows in the photo as a horizontal white line above the shadowed overhang. The small wedge shaped foothold is just visible at the lowermost apex immediately above the ledge.

Don nodded and I backed over the edge.

I knew the rappel would be uncomfortable with only a swami belt; I had done it before.  In fact, I had never rappelled with anything but a swami belt.  I knew if I leaned back and got down quickly it would be OK. I looked forward to getting back to the familiar fourth class section and off of the ominous precipice. Since we were now rappelling (as opposed to climbing) it didn't occur to me that I was about to lead a pitch without any gear.  A mistake of the inexperienced.  Don had the rack and slings; I had the pack.  There was still a dim light in the sky but it may have been dark enough to start seeing stars. 

The first ten feet weren't steep.  The rest was either vertical or slightly overhung.  The further down I went, the harder it was to keep my feet on the wall.  The swami belt was suffocating me.  To hurry I lifted an arms length of rope at a time with my right hand, pulled the belay plate away from the carabineer with my left, dropped, and repeated the process.  This jerking action bruised my ribs and rope-burned my hand.  I felt like I was drowning.  Twice I turned upside down, transferring my weight to my hips and catching my breath.  But I couldn’t make progress upside down.  I was quite scared.  It occurred to me that my nose was bleeding.  I managed to get my best rest by gaining toe and hand jams in the 1 1/2 inch crack which ran the length of the 90 degree dihedral.  The process bloodied up the back of my hands but it didn’t hurt.

Swami belts are a bad alternative to a climbing harness which has loops under your legs.  When you hang from a harness, it’s like “sitting” in a couple loops of rope.  When you hang from a belt around your waist it rides up and squeezes your ribs together and compresses your lungs.  I read somewhere that the pressure can suffocate you in thirty minutes.  Only the “purest” climbers use them.  Don was such a “purest.”  This climb would be my last experience with a swami belt.  In retrospect, the use of leg loops or harnesses might have been one of several factors which could have avoided a tragedy on this climb.

I could see as I neared the end of the rope that it was hanging in space.  I continued anyway until I had about a foot of the rope ends left.  Don had judged the lengths of the two ends of the rope within inches.  I could see a light triangular shape directly below me but I couldn't tell how far away it was or how flat it was. . . it was just a shape in the gloom.  It could have been anywhere from ten to fifty feet away.  I cursed the falls; the thundering cacade masked our voices almost completely.  Our conversation went something like this;

"DON!" I yelled as loud as I could.

"ARE YOU . . ." said Don, also screaming.

"WHAT?" I asked. "WHAT?" asked Don. "DON!" I screamed.

And Don answered, "ARE - YOU - AT - A - STANCE?"



"I - AM - OUT - OF - ROPE!"

No answer.


Don said something that I didn't understand. "WHAT?" I yelled.


My mind raced. I felt my belay plate with my hand. 'I've never heard of that,' I thought.  I'd resisted panic but barely…’I can’t work something like that out!’ I thought.  My arms were burning; they'd been holding my weight off of my lungs.  'No way,' I thought, 'I can't climb this rope without jumars or prussics.’  Jumars are a mechanical ascending device used in big wall climbing on fixed ropes.  Prussics are a pair of looped nylon cords that can be used (in conjunction with nylon slings) to lock onto and climb a rope using leg strength for the ascent.  I’d practiced with both but had neither with me.

"NO!" I answered.

Silence... Again I shouted, "WHAT SHOULD I DO?"

"I DON'T KNOW, " Don replied.

'That's great,' I thought. 'In about one minute I'm going to either suffocate or panic.' Don’s enigmatic question about what to do if the rope wasn’t long enough rang in my ears.  I almost ditched my backpack.  My thoughts went like this: 'Maybe if I release one end of the rope, Don will be able to lower me to … something.  But how will he get down?  Maybe we can make the rope longer with slings to somehow get him down.  In any event, I must get down or I will soon loose consciousness and die of suffocation.'

"DON!" I shouted.



There was a long pause before he answered, "YES . . . I'LL - BE - STUCK - HERE."  Or something like that.

I might have said "MAYBE WE CAN EXTEND THE ROPE WITH SLINGS?" but I wasn’t planning much beyond my immediate problem of avoiding suffocation at the end of a rope.  The dark, and 700 feet of air between me and the ground didn’t really matter, but it seemed like it did.

Don replied, "OH, . . . OK”

"OK?" I asked.

"YES,.. OH – KAY!"

I still had about a foot of each end of the rope through my belay plate. I had stopped because I didn't want the knots jammed up against it where they would get too tight to untie.

"I'M UNTIEING THE TOP ROPE!" I shouted as I untied the knot. "ARE YOU READY?"

"WHAT?" answered Don.

"ARE - YOU - READY!?" I repeated, as I pulled the rope through the plate.  I was afraid that he’d misunderstood.  If he wasn’t ready, and I let go of that rope, I’d drop.



I still wasn’t convinced that he understood. "HAVE - YOU - GOT - ME!?"

"YES!" He didn't sound impatient with my repetitive questions. He must have understood my fear. I tried to feel him on the rope; I raised it a foot, and I descended a foot, just as if he hadn't been there at all.

I yelled one last time, "I'M - LETTING - GO"… and I let go. I descended immediately and smoothly.

I can't remember how far down I went.  It seemed at the time that it was between 10 and 20 feet.  My foot landed on an upward pointing wedge shaped rock with a 4 inch, flat top about 18 inches above the “light triangle,” which was plenty of room for one foot. The “triangle” was about 6 feet on a side, flat and sloped sharply away from the apex. I hesitate to call it a "ledge."  A “45 degree angle face” might be a better description. There were okay handholds on the left face and a V-shaped notch for some kind of an anchor placement.  I could have descended further in hopes of something “better.”  Instead I decided that this was good enough.

There were two things I wanted to do right away.  One was to make myself some kind of an anchor.  Don had all of the gear so that would be a problem.  The other was to let Don know my position.  He knew that I had stopped descending and he was already yelling something.  As before, we were yelling stuff at the same time.  Now he was even farther away.

I was delighted to "find" 2 slings with carabineers hanging on my shoulder. One was a 9 millimeter rope about 7 feet long.  I yelled "off belay" a couple of times even though I was still tied in, and had no anchor just in case he was in a precarious position himself and needed to move off belay.  I now considered our situation ‘desperate’ and was willing to relax the SOP of anchoring yourself before announcing “off-belay.”

He yelled back something like: "Are you at a stance?"  This was hard for me to answer because I was still tied in to the rope and had no equipment for an anchor.  And my marginal “stance” was more like a face than a ledge.

I think I answered "sort of" or "wait a minute."  Don kept yelling about "stance" and then "belay . . . " and maybe other stuff.  His tone was urgent so I decided to go ahead and untie in case he started pulling up the rope to prepare his own rappel.

I was uncomfortable with my unprotected position and wanted Don to leave me alone for a minute while I caught my breath, got more secure, and gathered my wits.  But he kept yelling.  He wasn't taking up any rope.  I was working with the sling and trying to yell to Don at the same time.  I half untied the knot in the 9mm scrap and pulled one end free.  I was still trying to figure out how to get Don down.  I imagined him sliding many slings down the rope for me to extend it.  I hoped that he would use leg loops on his rappel.  He had shown me how to add them to a swami belt lying on my living room floor.  My mind was flooded with ideas and possible solutions.  But none were obvious and Don was 100 feet away and around a bulge in a noisy environment.

I tied a loop into the middle of the 7 foot rope, clipped it to my swami belt and jammed the knotted end into the shoulder high notch. I gave it a jerk and it held. That gave me a very minimal single point anchor.  Don was still yelling something about "belay." 'Why would he think I could belay him,' I thought. 'The rope isn't long enough, and all I have is the end of it.' I think I had just let it go and it was hanging there.  Maybe he was still asking if I was off belay.  I was directly below him.

I yelled to Don, "YOU'LL HAVE TO RAPPEL."

I was still trying to figure out how to get the knotted slings past Don's belay plate and hoping that Don was having some ideas of his own. He would usually come up with solutions that had completely escaped me, both in climbing and non-climbing related problems.

"WHAT?" yelled Don.

"I - CAN'T - BELAY - YOU . . . YOU'LL - HAVE - TO - RAH - PEL," I screamed.

I really wanted him to rappel down to me.  I wanted him, his know-how, and his rack of gear on that ledge with me.

The next thing I knew, he was on rappel.  I don't know how I knew; maybe he yelled "on rappel."  Or maybe I could hear his gear clanking or his feet scuffling.  I remembered immediately that I had left off the safety knot on the end of the rope when I passed it through my belay plate.  And I decided that I should remind him before he got too close to the end of the now uneven doubled rope.  Since I had descended 10 or 20 feet, the other end of the rope should have been 20 to 40 feet up.  I thought that I would wait until he got a little closer into voice range to remind him there was no safety knot.

As Don rappelled, I decided we may need the rope that I had just used as an anchor to extend the climbing rope for Don. I could get a head start on putting that together by tying the free end of my anchor rope to the end of the climbing rope.  Then I could replace my anchor rope with my short piece of webbing when he started pulling up the extended rope.  While I was tying the knot, Don yelled that he was suffocating.  He was grunting and gasping and I realized that he was now experiencing the terror that I had experienced on my decent.  But he sounded even more desperate than I had felt.


Don continued to say he was suffocating. He sounded very distressed.

I yelled back, "I KNOW; TURN UPSIDE DOWN."

His scared grunting sounds continued and he sounded much closer.  It occurred to me that he was rappelling very fast to get relief from the suffocation and was in danger of coming off the rope.

I yelled again with great alarm in my voice, "THERE – IS - NO - KNOT - IN - THE – SHORT – ROPE!!"

Finally he stopped.  "THERE ISN'T?!" he replied in disbelief. I could suddenly hear him much better. "NO" I said.  I was greatly relieved that I had caught him in time.

"Shit, it’s right here." His voice had changed. He no longer sounded like he was suffocating.

"WHAT IS?" I asked.

"The end of the rope," he said. "IT'S RIGHT HERE!

He sounded 25 to 35 feet above me. His tone was amazed and befuddled.

"TIE IT OFF," I said.

"I CAN'T. "


"I'VE ONLY GOT ABOUT . . . A QUARTER OF AN INCH!" Grunting, working sounds.

"I'M REALLY HUNG OUT TO DRY UP HERE, HOWARD." His voice was suddenly calm and defeated.  Maybe accusatory.




"I CAN'T… I'M BURNT," he exasperated.  His pessimism confounded me.  How could he give up NOW?!

After a pause, he added, "MAYBE I HAVE ENOUGH FRICTION ON THE ROPE . . . "

I knew he was thinking that the rope drag against the rock and around the rappel ring would slow him down enough if he jumped.  He didn’t know how steep the “ledge” was.  If he could see it at all he might have thought it was flat enough to land on.  In fact, it would hardly even slow him down.


"CAN YOU MAKE A PRUSSIC?" I suggested.  He normally carried a couple of prussic cords with him for emergencies.  But that morning he had taken them out of his pocket and thrown them in his pack complaining, "These damn prussics are filling my pockets."

I thought maybe he could use a piece of webbing or some­thing.  He didn't answer.  I was torn between shouting encourage­ment and suggestions and shutting up to let him work. If his mind was racing like mine, he really didn't need my comments to distract him.  I decided to shut up.

It was now dark.  I couldn’t see Don at all and he was directly above me.  Something whistled by.  "HEY," I yelled, "DON'T DROP STUFF.  I'M RIGHT BELOW YOU!"   Maybe he's making a prussic from a nut runner, I thought to myself.  But he was probably trying to make an anchor to secure himself to the vertical crack.  He had plenty of gear to do just that, and it would be the most obvious thing for him to try.  And it remains a mystery why he didn’t accomplish that.  But somehow at the time (incredibly), the idea escaped me.  I was a beginning climber, terrified, and just short of mindlessly gripping onto the rock.

By now, I was concerned about being tied to Don’s rope.  If Don fell, my knot-in-a-crack anchor would probably not hold and I would be pulled off way behind Don. He was not on belay but the rope went from him, to me, to the rock.  I unclipped from the rope, realized that I was exposing myself to a huge fall, and clipped back in. 'If he goes, maybe my dicey anchor will hold us both,' I thought.  And, quite irrationally, severing the rope link between us felt like I was abandoning him.

Suddenly several yards of rope dropped into my arms. I braced for the impact.

"THAT WAS IT," Don said.

"WHAT?! "



"GREAT! PUT THE ROPE THROUGH IT." I was delighted.  I knew he'd think of something.  Again I was relieved.

But Don's grunts sounded more and more desperate.  He only made sounds now.

"DON, DON'T LET GO," I pleaded.  I finally and correctly reasoned that it would not help Don for me to stay clipped to the rope.  In fact it could hurt him.  My stance would negatively change the angle of impact on our knotted rope “anchor” and my weight would be added to the already marginal placement.

I unclipped from the rope, hopeful that my "donated" anchor might reduce Don's potential 200 foot fall to 100 feet.  It was a hard choice because now I had no anchor at all, one foothold, one handhold, a black void beneath me, and my partner about to fall onto me at high speed.  If my situation was improved, it wasn’t by much.  And Don’s situation seemed to be deteriorating rapidly toward hopeless.

I braced for him to land on top of me.  From the sounds he was making, I was nearly certain that he would fall.  And I expected to fall with him.

I was holding several loops of rope that I didn't know what to do with.  I was afraid that they would pull me off when Don fell, but I didn't want to drop them and add a few ounces to Don.  It was a helpless feeling.  It occurred to me (again irrationally) that if he could secure himself I might climb the rope to help him.  Thoughts of his family entered my mind.

I don't know how I knew when he was falling.  Probably rope noises.  But I knew and I looked up as he made one terrified vocal sound.  I don’t know if I saw him or not.  It was very dark but I seem to have a memory of him falling, face down, arms reaching out as if he hoped to grab the ledge.  I yelled, "DON!" as he impacted the ledge four or five feet from me.  There was one bright spark from his gear and he was gone.

I couldn't tell if he bounced.  I don't know what happened to the 12 to 15 feet of rope I was holding.  I didn't hear him hit below. I didn't notice the rope that must have followed him.  I was utterly terrified and stood still and tried to calm myself.

I yelled, "DON! . . . DON!" and then found the rope.  The knot had pulled halfway out of the notch but it had held.  I pulled up on the rope and felt tension.  It was either Don's weight or the rope was pulled tight and jammed in some unseen crack.  Instead of running over the ledge, it ran inside the crack between the ledge and the right wall.  The night was eerily indifferent and silent.



I was practically overwhelmed by a bizarre combination of grief and adrenalin.  I stood there still expecting to suddenly fall.  I wanted desperately to down climb to Don but my perch was just above a huge overhang.  Down climbing an unknown 5.11 severe overhang in the dark with no rope would be suicide.  I couldn't slide down the rope because it was in the crack and the "anchor" was not to be trusted anyway.  And I didn’t want to pull on it.  I even thought of releasing the knot anchor and easing him down in case he was alive and hanging but didn't know if there was a place to lower him to. 

I tried to make an anchor for myself with my other sling by sharing the notch that held Don's rope. It wouldn't hold and I finally gave up for fear of releasing Don. If he was alive, I didn't want to cut him loose. “People have lived through worse,” I thought.

A creature in the crack screeched and scolded. My left hand was probably invading it's home. I decided that if it bit me I would kill it.

After some time passed, I calmed down a bit. I was wearing only light cotton clothes and it was getting cold. There was still snow on the ground in places and the temperature had dropped to the low thirties where we had camped. There was no moon, so I could barely see the sloping ledge below me, but I decided that I must try to sit on it.  If I stood all night in the cold, I would shiver and fall.

I carefully thought through my moves and slowly backed down to the ledge.  It was steep but I had enough friction to put most of my weight on my feet.  I turned, wedged my left foot in the crack, and sat on my right heel.  I was cramped and the rock hurt my left ankle but I was much more secure.  My palms were cold but sweating like crazy and getting everything I touched wet. I resolved to concentrate on not shivering . . . I would need muscle control to stay on the rock.  I decided to try not to think about Don . . . 'time for that later.'

I removed my pack, clipped it to my belt so it hung between my legs and leaned back against the rock.  I then began using the contents of the pack to keep "warm" and "comfortable" being careful not to fall or drop anything.

I put on my flannel shirt, changed from my climbing shoes to my hiking boots and sat on my climbing shoes after tying them to my belt with a piece of cord. They gave me an insulated, non-skid butt. I found my watch, put it on and lit a match to read it by. It was 1:15 a.m.!   Much more time had elapsed than I had thought.  I had "lost" three or four hours!   I still don’t know what happened during that time.  Probably, I was just hanging on and not thinking much at all.

I made a hat and muffler from my long underwear and put a small zippered stuff-sack over my head. I wedged both of Don's hiking boots into the crack to improve my left foothold and adhesive taped my pant legs shut.  I found and put on my leather gloves which I proceeded to soak with my still sweating palms.  I used the pack to cover my upper leg muscles which were still actively involved in keeping me on the rock; and I put my hands and forearms in the pack.

Don's rope now ran from behind me, between my left shoulder and the rock, between my left hip and the rock, and under my left foot.  I was concerned that the knotted rope anchor would "pop" and the rope would wrap around me and knock me off.  It never did go, but it added an additional element of peril to the night.  I felt the rope for movement many times in hopes that Don was alive.

Yelling for help seemed a bit pointless, but I did anyway.  I yelled in groups of three every hour in case some "illegal" campers were in earshot.  Camping was not allowed in this area but climbers sometimes break the rules to get an early start on a route.  I was by this time fairly certain of surviving the night but a few hours could mean everything for Don.  I also hoped that our wives would worry enough to come looking for us.  We were supposed to have been back home early that evening.

I shifted my weight and adjusted my position many times to increase circulation and reduce cramping.  I amazingly never did shiver and would have even slept a little had I been tied on.  I doubt if the temperature went much below forty degrees.  It was a crystal clear, moonless night and the stars were beautiful . . . another sad reminder of Don with his interest in astronomy.

I managed with great effort to eat our raisins and granola bars.  I was thirsty and it reminded me of a childhood experience of having my mouth full of dirt.  I had determined to survive this though, and I needed the energy.  I wished I could share my miserable meal with Don.

I watched the cars' headlights wind their way through the valley . . . and waited. I thought a lot about the accident.

What was the main error?  Had Don thought it was my fault?  WAS it my fault?  And crazy stuff; would some freak item of evidence cause me to be suspected of murder?

At first light, I could see the piece of red nylon attached to the hex nut that had been Don's last hold.  It was much higher than I had thought; perhaps forty feet above me.  I couldn't see Don past my overhanging ledge.

Tourists started stopping to look at the falls and joggers ran by as early as 5:30 a.m. Neither appeared to hear my calls.  More came and went.  Some walked to the viewing area at the base of the falls and stood.  One woman stopped on the road and took a flash picture of the falls.

I cut the bottom from my empty water bottle to make a crude megaphone. A long piece of adhesive tape worked to hang it from my belt.  I stopped yelling at people that weren't very close to save my voice.  I decided if I couldn't get attention by mid-afternoon, I would somehow try to get down on my own.  The prospect was not appealing.  To pass the time, I took a picture of the ground below.

After yelling repeatedly to a girl standing on the falls observation deck, I thought I could see her face looking up.  I pulled off my long underwear "hat" and waved it's full length violently.  She yelled something back!  I continued to wave and yell "HELP . . . NEED RESCUE . . . GET RANGER," etc.  She turned and ran down the path to the parking lot where a small crowd gathered and looked at me.  It was just before 8 a.m.  I WAS SAVED!

View from the ledge
View from ledge.  The falls observation area and paved path can be seen next to the white water just beyond the ledge.


In a few minutes, a patrol car arrived and the ranger instructed me with his loudspeaker to answer his questions with "yes" and "no" hand signals using my "shawl".  He was able to assess my and my partners situation and even guessed our names.  Our wives had been badgering the Park Service for most of the night.  Since it is quite common for climbers to be "caught out" after dark (and also common for friends and families to worry) a search had not been initiated.

Soon another car stopped and I watched two heavily equipped climbers cross the road. More cars arrived . . . tourists stopped.  An 'emergency' scene unfolded below.

By around ten o'clock I heard climbing gear clanking and, "HELLO?" . . . Music to my ears!!

"HELLO!" .      I suddenly didn't know what to say.

"Can you look over?"

I slowly stood on Don's wedged boots with my left leg.  My joints creaked.  The two climbers were standing below at Don's body (my first sight of him since the day before).  I waved and sat back down.  “That was dumb,” I thought, I could have fallen just then.

The climbers I would later learn were John Dill and Suzie Harrington.  John was the ranger in charge of search and rescue in Yosemite who I would later get to know personally, and Suzie is an accomplished big wall climber with a few “first female ascents” to her credit.

"If we release this rope, can you rappel down?"

"No. I don't have any protection," I replied.

"You have no anchor?"


Pause. "If we send some equipment up the rope, are you competent to set an anchor?"

I thought 'Sure, if I was tied in and could stretch first and could tell them exactly what I need.'

"I don't know… I'm a beginning climber" . . . 'That's it,' I thought, 'tell them right away that you consider yourself incompetent.  That'll make the obviously necessary criminal investigation especially humiliating!'  I was already embarrassed for my predicament.

"OK. If you'll be alright there for awhile, we'll find someone who can come up and get you."

"OK," I said. "A couple hours?"  I was starting to come down.  I had a headache, aching muscles, and my tired eyes caused the landscape to sparkle.  I started cleaning up my nest.

After a while, a climber of some renown named Warner Braun, who I would meet socially a few years later, joined me on the ledge.  He quickly tied me in, set three or four  anchors, and hung up my pack while I stood and stretched.  He then sent me off on belayed rappel to the next belay station below the overhang.

Since a body was involved, the rescue operation was extensive; seventeen climbers and rangers.  By eaves-dropping on the radio chatter, I determined that they were having a camera malfunction and would have to delay recovery of Don's body.  I was informed by a sympathetic rescuer, that I would have to rappel by my friend's body.  This I accomplished, although tearfully. At the bottom, I approached the officer in charge, after walking unnoticed through the huge crowd of craning, picture snapping tourists.

I was filled with the grief of my friend's death but happy to be alive.  I was apprehensive of the possibility of meeting Don's wife at the road but welcomed the attentive ears of the investigating officer and chief park ranger, who accomplished their "law enforcement" and "public safety" tasks with sympathetic ears that I had not expected from "cops".

I spent the afternoon and evening in a daze.  I talked to the rangers and my wife (on the phone), made arrangements for collecting our campsite and Don's truck, ate a sandwich and checked into a cabin with showers.  The Chief Ranger talked to Don's wife and several friends of Don's that called.  My wife joined me there late that night.



What went wrong?  What could we have done to get out of trouble?  What should we have done to better avoid trouble in the first place? . . . What did we do right?

First, I need to say that neither Don nor I considered ourselves daredevils.  The philosophical aspects of climbing and risk are a bit beyond the scope of this account.  So I'll just say that climbing was important enough, and our confidence in ourselves and each other was high enough, to accept some risk.  But only moderate risk, as in any dangerous sport.  The technical difficulty of this climb was well within our abilities.

Climbing safety is by nature redundant.  Don and I made compound errors and had an accident.  Climbing was the setting, not the cause.  It was an accident.

We should have carried sweaters and flashlights.  If we hadn't been in such a hurry to get down we could have chosen a better rappel route.  It probably would have been better to risk hypothermia by spending the night, than climbing in the dark.  We should have turned back much sooner.  We should not have hurried.

When I rappelled I should have worn leg loops (easily fashioned from a nylon sling in under a minute), and had a good plan of what to do if the rope didn't reach a stance, and of course the equipment to carry out the plan.  When I did rappel to the end of the rope, I could have climbed back up if I had prussic cords and several slings.

Naming the ends of the rope when I started to rappel may have saved my life.  Since Don knew which end was going to be weighted, he was able to lower me.  He probably did it by sitting face out between the ropes with his back to the rappel ring and simply performed a body belay.  He may have even clipped himself to the anchor first.  When I unknotted and passed the rope through my belay plate I correctly, though unknowingly at the time, left the free rope unknotted.  That end traveled up as Don lowered me.  A knot could have jammed in the crack and stranded me permanently.

Don should have made leg loops before he rappelled!  He also should have hauled up the rope and put in his own safety knots if that is what he expected to keep him on the rope.  He probably should have equalized the rope ends too.  Though he may have been planning to stop early and set a new rappel anchor.  I don't know why he couldn't recover from the suffocation effect; he had the equipment and the experience.  He had abandoned his prussic cords the day before but could have used a sling instead.  He could also have set a prussic before rappelling for backup safety.  He knew that I had removed a safety knot.  He didn't know if I had replaced the knot.  I might have been able to warn him sooner.  It appears that if I hadn't warned him at all, he would have panicked right off the end.

Once he had stopped with only a quarter of an inch of rope protruding from his belay plate, he should have been able to either pull the rope through and tie a knot, or use a prussic to secure the rope above his belay plate.  His arms were too tired to pull the slack on the rope.  I don't know why he didn't try for a prussic.  Instead, it appears that he went for the crack.  He may have used climbing technique and gained foot and hand jams to take some of his weight while he worked.

Next, he placed a hex nut in the crack, lost the end of the rope and hung from the nylon and/or carabineer which were attached to the nut.  He should have then been able to hang with one hand and with the other either clip himself in with a sling or, quicker and easier, snap the rope in and lower himself to me.  He may have even got the rope through but didn't have the strength to lower himself.

Don's really serious errors were the earlier ones even though they weren't immediately fatal.  I don't consider his last ditch efforts, accompanied by dark, cold, fatigue and fear, as errors any more than I consider his impossible grab for the ledge as he fell, an error.

When Don lost one end of the rope he descended several feet and the excess rope came to me.  Somehow, much more than several feet came down. Possibly he already had the rope through the carabineer on his new anchor and he actually lowered himself several feet. Anyway, I had 8 to 12 feet of rope and didn't know what to do with it.  I could have shortened his fall by those 8 to 12 feet of rope by using knots to shorten the rope running between the anchor and Don.  But standing there un-roped in the dark and using both hands, and with the risk of pulling at all on Don, it would have been very dangerous.  Don fell so far that those few yards probably wouldn't have mattered.  By holding the excess rope in my hand, I reduced the weight of the rope hanging on Don by a few ounces.  Don died of “multiple traumatic injuries” which according to my rescuers included a fractured skull.


I continued to climb for about ten years after the accident and became quite good at the sport, leading climbs rated 5.10 all over Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows and following a few rated 5.11.  The emotional distress I experienced after the accident seriously disrupted my life for about a year.  My thoughts of the accident displaced everything else in my consciousness.  I lost my job, my wife, and a good part of my career.  I still think of the event as pivotal in my life experience.

I started climbing again within weeks of the accident.  The scary aspects of rock climbing which I previously had interpreted as thrilling and a part of the pleasure of climbing didn’t work for me for a while.  I’d get a little scared on even a short climb or top-rope exercise and my emotions would runaway and momentarily turn the amusement park into a horror.  I also had difficulty with dusk for a while.  If I was outside and the light started to fade, I would have to fight an urge to panic.  Climbing or even hiking at dusk were out of the question for a few months.  As I wrote the first drafts of this story, I would get so cold that I would have to bundle up in my warmest down jacket to write and I’d occasionally put my pencil down and do something else to get my shivering under control.  Since I was obsessed with the accident, I was perfectly happy to talk about it with anybody and everybody.

My obsession became such an impediment to the rest of my life that I paid a psychiatrist to listen to my chatter for a while.  I suppose that helped a little but I think it was mainly just the passing of time that allowed me to clam down and get my ability to focus on other things back.

After losing my highly demanding CPA job, I went for about a year of unemployment and underemployment.  I eventually resolved that problem by taking a huge career step backwards and went to work as a minimum wage retail clerk at a North Face store.  I moved from there into the accounting department in The North Face Corporate Headquarters and eventually found my way back into a professional level of private accounting.

The memorial that Don’s wife Susan held for Don at her home was particularly painful for me.  I was expected to speak at it and I tried but was ultimately unable.  I had never met many of Don’s family and encountering them, with my feelings of at least partial responsibility for Don’s death, was something I had dreaded.  They, especially Don’s mother, turned out however to be warm and sympathetic towards me.

Susan gave me virtually all of Don’s climbing gear which I put to good use.  I reconnected with my old friend, Greg Mucks who had independently become an avid rock climber and we enjoyed years of climbing together; mainly in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows.  I also started climbing with another friend / co-worker of Don’s, Gordon Vaughn.  Gordon and I climbed quite a lot together over the next couple of years.  We even climbed a particularly spectacular route up the West face of Half Dome in Yosemite and unceremoniously tossed Don’s ashes off the peak.  Neither Don’s memorial nor his “burial” involved ceremony.  Don was an atheist and like me had become a universal life minister back in the seventies.  When my second wife Linda and I married in 1981 at a California Winery, Don performed the “non-ceremony” and read our non-religious vows.  Though legally qualified, it was the only wedding Don ever officiated.

About a year after the accident I wanted to re-climb the route.  I wanted to see the place as a climbing route and not a nightmare.  And I wanted to confirm my memories of the place.  Besides, as Don's instructor had promised, it is a great route.  But my usual partners wouldn't do it with me; "too creepy" they said.  Since I was working at The North Face, I knew lots of climbers.  I told one of them (I've since forgotten his name) that there was a route in Yosemite that I had not finished due to darkness and would he like to climb it with me?  Uncharacteristically dishonest of me but I really wanted that route.  He did and I didn't tell him the whole story until we were triumphantly on the descent.  My dishonesty by omission annoyed him but he understood.



ANCHOR Anything the climber attaches himself to. May include all manner of technical equipment and natural features such as rocks or trees.  To "anchor," to attach yourself securely to the rock or mountain.
BELAY To provide security for a moving climber by means of a rope and a stable position for the belayer.
BELAY PLATE A mechanical device for adding friction to a rope.  A thick metal plate with two slot shaped holes used in conjunction with a carabineer. Used for belay and rappel.
BOOK A dihedral.
CARABINER An oval metal link, with a spring loaded gate. Generally used to attach the climbing rope or the climber to an anchor or intermediate point of protection. Also 'biner, or clip.
CHOCK Types called stoppers, hex nuts, nuts, tri-cams. Various shaped pieces of aluminum alloy designed to wedge in cracks to establish anchors or arrest a fall.
CLASS OR GRADE System of indicating the level of difficulty of a "free" rock climb or portion of a climb. Class 4 involves steep rock, small holds and great exposure. Ropes should be used for safety. Class 5 is difficult climbing requiring technical safety measures and subdivided into thirteen categories of increasing difficulty (5.0, 5.1, 5.2, . . . 5.13)  See further comment below.
DIHEDRAL Concave rock formation of perpendicular faces, usually with a crack running the length of the apex. Also called a "book" for its similar appearance to an open book.
EXPOSURE The condition of being exposed to a potentially long free fall. Usually adds to the excitement of a climb.
FRIEND Sophisticated Caming device. Adjustable chock.
JAM A technique involving the wedging of some portion of the anatomy into a crack to create a hold on the rock.  Usually hands, feet, and fingers.
JUMAR A mechanical device used to ascend an anchored rope by means of a ratchet system which jams against the rope when weight is applied and slides upward when free of weight.
LEAD To be first on the rope while climbing - thus to climb without an overhead belay.
LEG LOOPS Loops of nylon webbing which can be attached to a swami belt to form a seat harness. Effectively transfers a rappeler' weight from his ribs to his legs.
NUT See chock.
PITCH The distance the leading climber climbs before stopping to anchor and belay his partner up to his stance.  Usually a rope length or less.
PROTECTION Chock or other equipment used as an intermediate anchor by the lead climber as he climbs. It's purpose is to reduce his potential falling distance. Called "pro" for short.
PRUSSIK A special type of hitch (or knot) used to grip a climbing rope. When tied correctly, it can be pushed either way on a rope; but when tension is applied, it grips the rope firmly and resists sliding.
RACK Collection of gear used for protection and setting anchors. Usually carried over the shoulder on a nylon sling by the lead climber.
RAPPEL A method of descending by sliding down a single or, more often, a double rope. Friction is employed either by wrapping the rope around the climber's body or passing it through a mechanical device attached to the climber to help slow and control the descent.
RAPPEL RING An inexpensive substitute for a carabineer used to attach a double rope rappel to an anchor. It is left behind when the rope is retrieved from below.
SLINGS Small loops of nylon webbing or cord, usually several feet in diameter. They have a multitude of uses in technical climbing.
STACK The untidy appearing heap of rope left when a rope is uncoiled or retrieved from below. When unstacked, the rope will usually pay out tangle free.
STANCE A ledge or other natural stopping place where an anchor can be set.
STOPPER Small chock.
SWAMMI BELT A length of wide nylon webbing wrapped around the waist several times and tied with knot. It's purpose is to provide a wide belt on which to attach the climbing rope.
TOP-ROPING The practice of setting an anchor above a difficult short route so that a climber's partner can belay him from the bottom by pulling in rope. Top-roping allows a climber to safely attempt a climb beyond his ability.
TRI-CAM A type of chock.


Climbing Grades - For those interested, and to clarify the grading system of climbing dificulty.

There are many systems to describe the difficulty of a climb.  Several have been developed in the various climbing centers of the world and in different languages.  And there are different grading systems for Alpine Climbing, Ice Climbing, Aid Climbing, and probably Rappelling and Spelunking.  One grading system which at least approaches a universal convention was developed in Yosemite National Park in the 1950’s and was originally known simply as the “Yosemite System.”

Climbing grades are all “comparative.”  That is, the best description of a grade 5.8 move, or pitch or route is “harder than a 5.7” but “easier than a 5.9.”  Which leaves a non-climber or even a climber who is unfamiliar with that particular system with virtually no information about the difficulty of the particular climb.  So to really understand climbing difficulty, you have to actually climb at least one rated route.  I will nevertheless try to describe for a non-climber what those numbers mean.

Class I is level hiking.  Class II is steep hiking.  Class III is steep hiking that requires use of the hands, but a fall would be easy to arrest without equipment.  Class IV is steep hiking that requires use of the hands, but with severe exposure.  That is, a fall would not be easy to arrest without equipment and would likely be fatal.  Class V is strenuous and steep climbing, constant use of the hands, hand and footholds must be searched for.  Ropes and other safety equipment are required to arrest a fall.  Class V “freeclimbing” uses only the hands and feet (and other body parts) to achieve progress.  Technical equipment is used only for safety and not as a climbing aid.  “Free Solo” climbing is the same as freeclimbing only no safety equipment is used.  A fall is likely to be fatal, but in actuality is rare because Free Soloers generally solo so far beneath their ability that they rarely fall.  Class VI climbing, or “aid climbing” is contrasted with “freeclimbing” in that equipment is used to aid forward progress.  pitons, chocks and other gear are inserted into the rock and stepped on and pulled on to “aid” upward progress.  Climbing is all about style and does not take the easiest way up!  That sport is called “peak bagging.”

A single climbing “move” can be rated for difficulty.  And a “pitch” or section of a climb based usually on the rope length or distance between stances or stopping places for belays, is usually rated by the hardest single move on the pitch.  And the whole climb is generally rated by the hardest pitch on the route.  So a route that is rated for example 5.8 might have lots of easy 5.2 moves and pitches but a single 5.8 move and will thus be rated “5.8.”  Another route rated 5.8 might have continuous and sustained 5.8 moves and thus also be rated 5.8.  So identically rated climbs might present a significant difference in overall difficulty.  To help alleviate this, if the difficulty of multiple moves is sustained enough, the pitch or route rating is sometimes elevated to the next higher decimal point to reflect that difficulty.

V Class or “Fifth Class” climbs are divided by decimal points in an open ended and ever increasing difficulty rating of 5.0, 5.1... 5.14 etc.  As I said before, they are comparative and hard to define without actually climbing.  Though “angle” or “steepness,” or “scariness,” or “exposure” are not factored into a difficulty rating.  I would take a rank beginner on a 5.1 to 5.4 climb depending on her fitness and attitude toward the sport.  5.4 is hard for first time climbers to negotiate, even for fit beginners.  Most people you see playing on artificial climbing walls at public events are climbing in the 5.1 to 5.4 range of difficulty.  Grades in the 5.5 to 5.7 range require considerable upper body strength.  The climbers entire body weight is regularly hauled up by her arms and hands.  Handholds are often fingertips only and footholds are often pebble sized protrusions.  Grades of 5.8 and 5.9 are extremely awkward and require great strength, flexibility, and balance to perform.  Climbing at this level becomes a gymnastic effort and overhanging problems are common at this level.  At 5.10 and above, holds are smaller and harder to find and the climbing simply gets harder and harder.  At 5.11 “dynamic moves” where the climber leaps for tiny finger holds are not unusual.  When I was climbing, the best climbers in the world were climbing 5.13.  I’ve heard that the grades have now been elevated to 5.14 and maybe 5.15 but I can scarcely imagine it.  If I were to climb today with my 40 pounds of extra bulk that I’ve gained over the years, I’d climb at around 5.3.  If I lost 40 pounds and got into good shape, I could probably manage 5.7 to 5.8 at my age of 60.  I’m afraid that my lean and mean days of climbing 5.10 are long gone.  But there’s a route up Devils Tower that’s rated at only 5.7 that I still lust after!

Devils Tower

Why Climb?  I think it was Sir Edmund Hillary who quipped, "Because it's there."  But that was really just a flip remark to a pesky reporter.  The real reason climbers climb is because they enjoy the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment that overtaking a series of problems brings.  Climbing combines the mental and physical in a sport very well.    And the scenic beauty of most climbing environments doesn't hurt either.  Risk taking and thrill seeking adds appeal for some but I don't think those aspects are as important as many suppose.  But the possibility of physical harm can motivate tremendously.  I've done things on the rocks to save my neck that I wouldn't have guessed I could do.  Another answer that I like is this, "If you have to ask... you wouldn't understand."

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