I spent a good portion of my Sunday afternoon stranded on a ledge some 40 metres up in the air stuck on the side of Mt Tibrogargan. This is by no means a complaint. As ledges go it was reasonably spacious, the view was magnificent, I was in the shade and cool breeze on a hot day and I had the luxury of the food and water I was carrying for our small party. I certainly realise that in my time trapped on the ledge the other two members of the day’s team, Skip and the Vet (an admirable effort on her first multipitch outing), were in a far more uncomfortable and precarious situation. Still, it gave me time to think.
Why was a stuck in the first place? I’ll chalk that one down largely to rookie error. We were confident that the weight savings involved in either hauling a second rope or leading on twins would not be worth the effort. In the end we sacrificed weight for time – a fairly even compromise I suppose, but a shame in that we were unable to complete our climb because of this decision.
I knew that in belaying the others as seconds after completing the Pitch 1 lead and then belaying them both on higher to the next anchors I was already committed to a long haul on the ledge. I did not, however, envisage the problems we would encounter in getting me to the top of pitch 2.
I’ve broken the issue down into a few key segments each with their own learnings.
1 – Three people should absolutely bring two ropes. The time savings alone would have been worth the extra effort.
2 – Take better note of the terrain. Even a more cursory glance at our route should have informed us that we would be heading up a lot of slab. Throwing a rope to a waiting individual (me) was always going to be a pain when contending with a few metres of positive incline.
3 – Make sure you are prepared for the worst. I was lucky to have access to a drink and some food. The others, even on this relatively small climb, could have benefited from a similar luxury.
4 – A spacious ledge is well and good, but having to disconnect from my anchors to retrieve the rope way off to the right when it was finally in reach was a risk I’d prefer not have to take again. I’m no advocate of soloing, even when I’ve got a few metres of steady rock between me and the edge.
In the end, and despite our small mistakes, I was confident in how we progressed. We were never in any particular danger of being stranded as there was an easy rappel for the others to get back to me with the rope. We made the right choices in managing time after our initial short sightedness, reaching the ground with daylight to spare. We had all the right gear and everyone had a great attitude – but I do maintain a previously held thought that one can never have enough slings. Most importantly the longer I spent on my ledge the more comfortable I become. I did not panic when I realised I was stuck, nor did I let the height or exposure affect me. In fact I’d say that overall I enjoyed the experience. I made friends with some amazingly multicoloured insects, and enemies with some of the more toothy varieties. As well as managing some time for contemplation.
In all it was a great day, I’m keen to go back and finish the climb off as the final pitch ends in a brilliant cave and we missed out on 40 odd metres of climbing. Next time I anticipate a much more organised and speedy ascent, and the whole thing gave me a much needed confidence boost. I know Skip is looking forward to the lead of pitch 1.
Fun titbit: At our pace for the day and assuming (falsely) that it’s of equal difficulty, it would have taken us around 8 days to get to the top of El Capitan. Room for improvement there.