Excuse Me, You Dropped Something Several Hundred Feet

Andy. He has many talents.

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,

and

caught it.

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

“YAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!”

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.

-Brendan

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15 Comments

  • You’re not kidding, Dude, that was the catch of a lifetime. Granted, you got it off a good hop, but the reaction time! Like a cheetah!

  • I was climbing out of the Grand Canyon after a day on Mt. Hayden when the rope behind me pulled loose a rock. I heard it crashing below about the same time my partner said “Holy Shit!”

  • Seneca Rocks 2007. I am leaning back onto a tree about to start rappelling. I didn’t know that my cheap target water bottle would break off my harness and fly down 30 feet smashing into a million pieces and spraying water all over a bunch of people. No more cheap
    Bottles for me. Plus all I could do was tell water bottle bec I was a noob

  • Freeway free solo on the 2nd. I literally threw Julie’s camera down the face. I thought it might be alright until pieces started flying off. I down soloed 250 to retrieve the SD card and of course bought her a new camera of equal or lesser value.

    Why is it always cameras?

  • Okay, here is one for you. While climbing the Torment Forbidden Traverse a few years back, we were getting ready to rappel over the moat which served as pretty much the Rubicon of the climb. My partner (whom of which I met over the internet and he ended up being like 50 years older than me) grabs the ropes and throws. The end of one of his ropes wrapped around and grabbed ahold of his ice ax sending it flying into the beyond. I’m talking like the 3,000 feet beyond- down the steep NF of the traverse. When…. miraculously it landed shaft down and stuck in the snow right at the foot of the belay. He just looked over at me and said. “That is how we do it old school”.

  • I always take my camera on multipitch routes.. sometimes single pitch if the view is good from above too. I’ve rigged it so that I can drop it and it will still be connected to my harness. I use the retractable leash that came on my nut tool attached to my lowe hardshell case and to my harness. My camera attaches by its handstrap to the case and then I use another small biner to attach the case to my harness… When I take a pic I just unclip the case biner so even if it drops or I drop it on purpose (which I have when I’ve also been belaying), it won’t go too far. My husband on the other does not do this.. but then again, he also doesn’t drop gear.. usually. I choose the “better safe than sorry” method. And I also only yell “rock” regardless of what’s falling… unless I’m yelling, “rope.” Thanks for the good stories!

  • My iPhone fell out of my pocket while I was rapping, still a good 25 feet off the ground. iPhone was in a thin and not particularly bombproof plastic case. I thought it was done for! After hunting around for it for 5 minutes, I found it. On a boulder. Two small scratches on the glass screen and no other damage – it works perfectly!

    “Is there anything in my pockets?” is now part of my pre-climb and pre-rap checklist. 🙂

  • I once dropped my phone (Samsung Galaxy Nexus) from the top of 25m climb and it just had a small scratch on the side of the body and was working fine. Ironically, a week later I dropped it onto the floor from maybe 1.5 meters and cracked the screen in many places. It still works though.

  • I lost my iPhone off the top of Castleton Tower a few weeks ago. A dude just called me, he found it. It’s in ONE piece and is in the mail to me right now!

  • For my husband and I it is rings flying…First he dropped his wedding ring off a keeper biner while grabbing a screw on lead on vertical Colorado ice. Ring musically bounced into boulder field. Belayer retrieved it. Lucky bastard. Second, I was cleaning bike chains at a very muddy 24 Hours in the Sage MTB race (OK not climbing…but still involved dropping stuff into virtual abyss – of mud, not air). Unbeknownst to me I knocked the diamond out of my ring into the mud. goodbye diamond, hello endless reminders I lost my ring. I just say, “Darling, you briefly lost yours too.” Still married and dropping shit together.

  • There’s a route in the Icicle Canyon where you rappel two pitches then climb back up. Near the top, the camera fell out of my pocket. Had a few scratches and a small dent, but continued to work fine. The next day I was doing a road ride through the mountains, and the same camera fell out of the same pocket at about 30 mph going down hill. More cosmetic damage, still worked. A month later I’m doing a harder climb, decide not to risk it, and leave it at the belay ledge, which is kind of sandy. Windy day. Camera never worked again. The wind blew some sand into the lens mechanism, and now it won’t power on.

  • I was kayaking the East Branch of the Pemigewasset last March in New Hampshire. It was almost flood stage after some snow melt and so the water was really big and was really, really cold. I ended up flipping on one of the larger rapids and to make a long story short I got run over a raft, hit some rocks, and swam. So while that experience sucked, I dragged myself and my kayak to the shore of an island only to discover that my precious carbon-fiber paddle was gone. None of my friends could find it, since black carbon fiber blends in really well with foamy water. I thought it was lost forever. Until two weeks later a guy some 60 miles downstream found my paddle and responded to my pleas on message boards to find it. I know not gravity related, but I think the stomach-dropping feeling of loss from watching your camera tumble from half way up a pitch and your paddle disappear into the river is the same!

  • Apparently the French have a thing with shoes falling off their feet while climbing. When I was a kid learning to climb at the New River Gorge there was a French duo climbing the route next to us. The guy was wearing slippers and one fell off. He motioned for me to throw it back up to him. He was probably 30 feet up, which is a long way to throw a shoe vertically. I tried to underhand toss it and mistimed the release sending the shoe way behind me, deep into the woods. He cursed at me in French.
    That’s my French falling climbing shoe story.

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