A close call for 2 of our friends.
Check out the full story of Danielle, Dan, Lacey, Phillipe and Bogue on a chossy island getaway near Incheon...
"You call this a send fest, I call it a choss pile."
One month before my 28th birthday I come close to death but cheat it by only seconds and a few feet. At 4:30 on Friday I ran out of the door of the school, across the parking lot, through the soccer field and up the stairs to my modest two bedroom Korean apartment where my jam-packed bag sat patiently waiting. Ready to go, I lugged the dead weight of all my camping-climbing equipment on my back and headed down the rural village road towards the country bus stop. My destination was Muido, an island off the coast on Incheon. It is only a few kilometers from the Incheon airport, the international hub where people from all over the globe meet South Korea for the first time.
I met up with my climbing buddies and we all crammed into their modest two bedroom Korean apartment and cozied up in our sleeping bags on the kitchen floor for a night of dreamless sleep. To get to Muido Island, one must go to the Incheon airport and jump on a local bus there. The reason for our weekend extravaganza was to be the first Wey-gook-in foreigners to climb on Muido’s newly bolted seaside crags (this could be a lie, but to my knowledge, it is completely and utterly true.)
At low tide, the tide is very low and all the crags are accessible by walking along the seabed littered with seashells, oyster remnants and crustaceans of all kinds. As we began the search for climbable rock, we soon feasted our eyes upon the ubiquitous anchors that we have grown to love and trust so much over the years. It looked like some promising sport climbing on orange volcanic rock. The base of some climbs are riddled with white barnacles, enemies to my new evolve shoes. The grades are a rainbow of difficulty to warm us up or shut us down, to both we had been inclined to accept. With no guidebook, we chose the most beautiful lines in sight. My partner and I, Dan chose an easy-ish warm up to get the feeling of this new and foreign rock. New areas tend to be prone to loose rock and a lot of unknowns, so easy does it. I was also treading on new shoes that I had yet to trust fully. After I had on-sighted what seemed to be no more than a 5.9 in difficulty, it was Dan’s turn.
I must now, before the story continues, give credit to all the inspirational climbers that have molded my passion and allowed me to hone my skills as a dedicated lifer of climbing. Dani D Love, Napolean, Tomas, Ana Gabriela, Beckett, Eli, Eva and Wesley among many others. I have learned from some of the best.
Ok, so Dan leads a smooth clean climb and at the top after clipping the anchors, right before I am about to lower him to safety, I look up and see a microwave-sized boulder from the 80’s lean onto his chest in slow motion. In complete disillusionment, he could say nothing, just as he could barely understand what was happening. At this point, I knew it was going to fall straight into the hands of gravity. I scurried to the right, hugging the wall as close as I could and suddenly fell backwards over a barnacle covered rock. While keeping my break hand secure on the rope, I still was able to hold Dan precariously at the sketchy anchors fifteen metres above. Holding my breath, closing my eyes, scrunching my face and praying to the powers that be that the microwave and its deadly pizza pop shrapnel wouldn’t decapitate me.
The loud smash knocked me back into the present moment. In a 10 second fuzz I yelled at Dan. “Are you OK?
“Yes. Are you OK?”
“Yes.” I reply as I shook my head in disbelief in a dust cloud of rock debris. In less than the minute that followed I surveyed the damage. Inches from my feet lay 4 pieces of fresh rock fall the size of toasters and the microwave itself, larger than first perceived to be, 2 feet to my left.
Despite the helmet if any one of those pieces were to hit me we would have had some serious carnage on our hands and probably 2 dead bodies. Me dead and Dan dead because after I died, I would have let go of my brake hand and dropped him. Just before I was about to lower him, I had to make sure everything really was OK. There was so much more fresh debris than I originally had noticed, At least 5 other stove pot-sized rocks and a bunch of golf balls carpeted the bottom of the climb. “Don’t’ move. Don’t touch anything” I yelled up at Dan. With my instincts in on red alert and having learned so much from the people who raised me up in the climbing world, I knew I had to check the rope. Literally 6 inches below my break hand, the rope was sliced, 3/4‘s through the core. Totally ******. If I was to miss that essential detail and lower Dan, it most certainly would have snapped and sent Dan plummeting. Bogue, another climber friend of ours ran around the corner. He had heard the rock explosion, but had heard no screams. He thought he was about to be witness to the serious bloody aftermath. I asked him to go and fetch another rope. He would have to rescue Dan by leading the route again and rapping down one after the other. Once everybody was safe on the ground, we got the hell outta there. For the first climb of the day, it no less than muddied our mental fortitude.
For the rest of the day, we all climbed with a little unease and doubt in the rock we confronted. We became ballerinas, cautiously dancing up the rock, checking every hold a little more than necessary. On My 3rd lead of the day, I pulled off a teapot sized handhold but somehow managed to keep my barn door balance and not take the whipper that could have been. “Rock” I called and Dan was warned in plenty of time. After rebalancing myself and a couple moves later on a nice little ledge I called down in a mouthful of disbelief, “You call this a send fest, I call it a choss pile”.
All things considered, the day improved, our heads returned to rock warrior mode and we found the sweet potential that was waiting in store for us all along. Lacey was leading up a storm, the first of many to come and Phillipe and Bouge in constant brotherly competition were pushing their limits as always. As we moved along the beach, the rock became solid and the lines were quality. We found ourselves good and pumped as the day came to a close and the tide began to creep back in towards the dry sand. With our tents pitched on the beach, the 5 of us gathered around a fire and retold the story with all the “what if’s” we could imagine. “What if I was 2 feet over? What if I didn’t see Dan holding the Boulder and about to drop it? What if our other friends were standing there? What if I didn’t notice the rope and lowered Dan and it snapped? What if, What if, What if?
The truth is all moments in life are filled with what ifs. What happens, happens and what is done is done and this time we were damned lucky.
A little advice for the newbie climber or just a refresher for you veterans:
-Always wear a helmet outdoors, especially in new areas.
-Check any suspicious holds with a delicate tap of the hand,
-Pay attention to each other. Don’t get distracted by social chat or mind wanderings. Be 100% present.
If there is rock fall…
-Belayer, move as far to the side as possible out of the line of trajectory.
-Climber, yell out “ROCK!”
-Check the rope as soon as possible for any weaknesses. (Rock fall can cut a rope just like that.)
-Never let go of the break hand, even on auto locking belay devices.
-And ****, while remembering safety first, don’t forget to have fun.
Chec out some pictures on my blog: