by Peter Nelson

“Hanging on for dear life” is a phrase you hear a lot, but it never applied to me until now. I had eight fingers supporting my entire body weight and was growing weaker by the second. So why did I foolishly looked down at the angry Atlantic 150 feet below me?

Trust me, I wasn’t smiling at this point.
Trust me, I wasn’t smiling at this point.

How long can you hold yourself up with just the tips of your fingers? A minute? Two minutes? It felt like a fairly long time to me, but that was probably due to the surges of adrenaline pumping through my veins. I searched frantically for footholds again, but found nothing but smooth, smooth rock face.

Look up at Jeremy, look down at Roger. Fingers are getting weaker. For the first time, I realized that I was going to die. I was going to fall too far, too fast. I knew Jeremy wouldn’t be able to handle the sudden strain on a rope that couldn’t be fastened very well.

Look up, look down. There’s got to be something one of the guys can do. Look up. Look down. Look out! Scream. And fall.
Look up, look down. There’s got to be something one of the guys can do. Look up. Look down. Look out! Scream. And fall.

It could only have been a fall of 20 or 25 feet, but it’s surprising how fast your body will accelerate in such a short distance. The jolt when the rope slack ended was fierce, jamming the harness around my midsection and knocking the breath out of me. But the rope held. Bless you, Jeremy. He was holding me firm. Once I was no longer falling, he relaxed his grip on the rope, slowly lowering me down to the ledge where Roger stood.

photo 7

After that, I’m not sure what happened. I must have been in some kind of shock. Roger must have untangled the ropes and rearranged our harnesses somehow. Maybe Jeremy had a spare rope, and he tossed one end of it down to us. But the next thing I knew, Roger was climbing above me, and before long, he was up with Jeremy. The two of them climbed the remaining distance to the top of the cliff.

I just stood there, helpless. My hands, the muscles in my arms were utterly useless. I couldn’t even grasp a twig, let alone pull myself up using fingerholds. I couldn’t even reach up to search for one. Roger and Jeremy were both out of sight now, back from the edge of the cliff. But then the support rope grew taut. They were going to try to pull me up!

And they did. Slowly, but surely, I inched up the cliff. I was just a dead weight on the end of the rope, unable to do anything at all to help with my rescue. But somehow they got me up. In spite of the great friction on that rope where it rubbed against the edge of the rock, it didn’t fray at all. Bless you, braided nylon filaments.

photo 8

Well, like all good climbs in that part of Cornwall, our day’s adventure ended in a local pub. Hey, guys, my treat. But my hands were still so weak, I could only lift a half pint of their local bitter.