by Peter Nelson

Ok, all systems go. Time for the big climb, the whole shebang.

Starting from just above the ocean, where there’s a large enough ledge for all three of us to stand and hook up, we’re going right to the top. It’s only 200 feet or so, but it’s pretty vertical, and, looking up, I don’t see many hand- or footholds. That rock face looks depressingly smooth.

Jeremy will lead. He’s the most experienced climber. Me, the neophyte, they stick in the middle. That’s the safest position. Roger will anchor from below, and then follow up.

photo 3

 

It’s a good start. Alfred’s quick and confident. He’s inserting pitons into existing cracks in the rock face, and then hammering them in snugly before snapping on carabiners and inserting our rope. Don’t want to damage the climbing route, but you want those babies to be snug. We’re roped up with about 30 feet between us. When I feel the rope pulls taut above me, it’s time to head out.

Some tricky bits, but mostly, the going is good. You don’t use the rope at all, of course. It’s just there for emergency support. You climb by finding fingerholds and footholds, wherever you can. It’s easier being second climber, because I’m watching Jeremy and can see where he finds his holds. Only one person climbs at a time. The other two get into the most stable position possible, in case they have to anchor the one who’s climbing.

It’s exhilarating, but pretty tiring. I’m not used to supporting my entire body weight with just one hand and one foot, as I often have to do. But everything’s going well. I look up at Jeremy. He’s near the top now.

We had all the proper gear, but no helmets.
We had all the proper gear, but no helmets.

photo 3 - Peter Nelson Cornwall rock climbing

Then there’s an odd snag as I reach above me for a new handhold. Something is actually pulling me down. What’s going on here? I look down and see the support rope doubled up and running taut down below me. Did I miss a carabiner down there? I didn’t click the release to free the support rope. Uh oh.

I look up at Jeremy. He looks a bit worried. That makes me worried. The roar of the ocean is too loud for us to be able to speak to each other, but I can see him making some rather frantic signs to Roger down below me. This isn’t a good spot to be hanging from. I’ve got nothing but handholds, no footholds within reach. I try anyway, feeling the rock face with the tips of my shoes, looking for some support, any support. I’m in trouble. The support rope is preventing me from climbing any higher. My only choice is to go back down. But I can’t do that either. Scrabbling around with both feet, one at a time, I can’t find any ledge to take some of my weight and rest my hands a bit. I’d lunged up moments ago to reach these two handholds, assuming I’d only have to hang here for a few seconds before moving up to a sturdier perch. But now I can’t do that.

I look up at Jeremy again. He’s on a fairly wide ledge, and he drops down on it, bracing his feet against a small outcropping of rock. He loops the support rope around himself a couple of times and grips it with both hands. Is he going to try to pull me up? But no, he can’t do that. That damned piton down below me is too well-seated. He looks down at me. I try to read the expression in his eyes. How worried is he?

I look down at Roger and those horrible rocks far below him. He’s bracing himself too, as well as he can, but he doesn’t have as good a perch as Jeremy does. This is looking bad. Real bad.