There’s a reason you clip everything to your harness when climbing long routes: If you drop something, chances are pretty good you’re not going to get it back.
Which is why I was less than optimistic that I could find my camera after accidentally dropping it from the top of the third pitch of Kor’s Flake this past summer. My friend Lee and I did a cursory search around the base of Sundance Buttress after we finished the climb, but as I said at the time, Dude, if we find anything, it’s not going to be a camera, it’s going to be a case with a million pieces of camera inside of it.
I have taken hundreds of photos while belaying, point-and-shoot camera wrist strap clenched between my teeth, clicking the shutter with my non-belay hand, and never dropped a camera. In almost six years of climbing, I have only dropped one piece of gear: A No. 6 nut from the third pitch of the Bastille Crack. I have never dropped a water bottle, a pack or a helmet. Alas, on Kor’s Flake that day, I blindly unclipped the wrong carabiner, and goodbye camera.
The first climb I ever did with Lee, my first multi-pitch climb ever, he warned me at the top of the rappel of Seal Rock in the Flatirons, “At this point, you really don’t want to drop your belay device.” Maybe a minute later, we both heard his ATC clinking down the rock. But it stopped 20 feet away and he was able to scramble down and grab it. Nowadays, not a rappel goes by anymore where one of us doesn’t say, “At this point, you really don’t want to drop your belay device.” Then we laugh, like it’s the first time we’ve told the joke. Sometimes one of us adds, “Yeah, except really don’t fucking drop it this time. Seriously.” Then we rappel.
This August, my friend Brian and I were rapping the gully on the east side of Steinfell’s Dome at City of Rocks. I rapped down 100 feet to the first anchor, clipped myself in and waited for Brian to join me. Halfway down the rappel, he whipped his head around and yelled, “Camera!” His point-and-shoot, up until then in the pocket of his shorts, had worked its way out of the pocket and was now on its way down, to Camera Heaven. I heard the first bounce as I looked up at Brian.
I was never that good at baseball. Scared of the ball, no arm, whatever. By 7th grade, it was pretty clear I would not be a Hall of Fame shortstop. But in the rappel gully that day at City of Rocks, I was Hall of Fame.
Brian’s camera bounced once, wildly spun in the air towards me, bounced again, and gained speed as it rocketed down the gully. I stepped slightly left, waited with both hands open,
I clicked on the power button. Wow, it still turned on. I held it up and pressed the shutter button, taking a photo of Brian, paused above me.
“It still works,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be shockproof up to a 5-foot drop.”
“That was like 30 feet,” I said. This had to be the awesomest thing that had ever happened to anyone I knew while rappelling.
Then two days later, I told the story to my friend Andy Anderson.
That’s great, Andy said. I was in Zion a few weeks ago, he said, about halfway down the rappels, at the top of the fifth pitch of Iron Messiah, and this French couple was rappelling down above us, maybe a pitch and a half up. The guy was rapping with the heels of his climbing shoes off, just his toes in the shoes. Then I hear him yelling, “Shoe! Shoe! Shoe!”
And I look up, Andy said, and the second I look up, the shoe hits me right square in the helmet. Bam.
I started laughing as Andy told this part. Wow, you know what would suck, I thought, is if you looked up and that shoe hit you in the face after gaining speed for 150 feet.
Well, Andy said, it bounced straight into the air and I caught it.
And then the French guy, still 150 feet above me, watching the whole thing, yelled
I just clipped the shoe to my harness, Andy said, rapped to the bottom, and gave it back to him when we both got down. It was pretty classic.
And then that was the awesomest thing that had ever happened to anyone I knew while rappelling.