It's pretty cool when your heroes are the same people you call your friends.
Thanks for finally writing about this fateful afternoon, Chad. I've been eager to read your account for some time. I hope you'll indulge me as I reflect on a few thoughts your essay inspired.
Having been there when you were injured — just a few feet away — I find a particular sentence in your essay peculiarly understated: "I unintentionally pulled a loose boulder off its perch..."
It's been rattling around in my head for the last day. For some reason "loose boulder" just sounds too damn innocuous when I put it up next to my own memory of that unforgettable afternoon. What came crashing down was, in my mind, a massive slab of granite probably weighing more than a Volkswagen. And "pulled, " though probably technically accurate, doesn't seem like an appropriate word either. To me it doesn't convey the improbability and inconceivability of what happened. Prior to 8/9/09 I never would have believed that a wall of granite could just…displace…like that with so little application of external force.
I returned to that spot a couple weeks after the accident with my cousin — a body-building Navy S.E.R.E. trainer who claimed to be able to dead-lift 500 lbs — and together we attempted to move the offending slab to get a sense of its size and weight. Our combined effort didn't so much as budge it. So the notion that a human being could so easily "pull it off its perch" — where it had no-doubt rested harmlessly for eons — is still incomprehensible to me. I keep coming back to the question: how is it possible that it didn't fall long ago? I struggle grasp the overwhelming and unpredictable forces of nature and how they came to bear that day.
Those few seconds and the adrenaline-filled minutes and hours that followed had a profound effect on each of us. Of course the three climbers who were physically unscathed by the falling rocks were spared the pain and suffering you endured, but that instant seared into each of our consciousnesses and I expect it affected us in similar ways.
Like you, I have new-found, and perhaps overly healthy, nervousness about rockfall. Prior to that day I felt confident in my abilities as an adventurer and mountaineer and paid little attention to the relationship between rocks and gravity and whatever happened to be between them. I wasn't reckless or irresponsible, but since that day I find myself looking any rock not below me and my partners as a potential life-threatening hazard.
Sometimes that perception, or nervousness, is extreme. Last summer I was nearly paralyzed by fear while ascending the Great Cleft on the south face of Pollock Mountain in Glacier NP. As I looked up at the narrow chimney of rock it seemed to me every boulder was just waiting for the right gust of wind or drop of rain to dislodge it from its ancient perch and send it crashing down on me or my partner. It was dizzying and frustrating. While I analyzed the potential danger of nearly every rock above me as we made our way to the summit, my less-experienced partner effortlessly scrambled and ascended steep couloirs and ledges. She was cognizant of my nervousness, and the reason for it, but she wasn't burdened by the visions of that harrowing afternoon at the foot of Spire Rock.
It's difficult to resist thinking about the hundreds of individual decisions we made in hours leading up to that precise, unfortunate second on 8/9/09. Sometimes it's tempting to play the "what if" game in my head. After all, there are infinite potential outcomes when you roll those dice. But plenty of those outcomes are no-doubt far worse than what ultimately transpired, so I choose instead to focus on how grateful I am I still get to scramble in the mountains with you, even if we leave the ropes and harnesses behind. After all, there's plenty else to do in the wilds of Montana…
Missoula News/Independent Publishing |
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