Fortunately, my doubts were well misplaced and I did make it down safely. And in reality, it wasn’t that dangerous. In fact, I was in no real risk of falling to my doom. As you’ll remember, Peter went down first. One of the things I learned on my way down is that when sufficient tension is applied on the free-side of the rope (i.e. the rope that is below me), I stop.
As it turns out, a person below is easily capable of supplying that tension. VoilÃ ! Instant safety net. Actually, the funny thing is that before I stepped over the rail, Peter had yelled to me that if I fell, he could catch me. I was trying to figure out how exactly he was going to do that and surmised that he was going to quickly maneuver his pack under me and hope that broke my fall. Needless to say, I wasn’t very inspired by Peter’s original comment. But after I was on the ground again, it all made sense.
After I had jumped over the railing, I had Niki reach into my bag and grab my cloth medical tape. Ben helped tape the palm of my hand and the lower part of my pointer, middle and ring fingers. This actually turned out to be a great idea since the rope ended up going right over my pointer finger. After my hand was all taped up, I managed pretty much pull the same stunt Peter did in lowering himself. However, instead of doing the rope wrapped around the leg trick, I stood on the flange from the I-beam below the bridge and adjusted myself (…although not in that way). And with that, I was off.
The funny thing about rappelling is how I viewed possible points of failure. Initially, I was concerned mostly about the mechanical systems that we installed and used (i.e. the railing, ropes, knots, and carabiners), however I very quickly realized that I was the weakest link! That is, for lack of a better word, a very sucky thing to realize halfway down and I would by lying if I didn’t say that I had some doubts about my ability to make it down.
(Photo credit: Upper right, Andrew Ferguson; Bottom left: Peter Walchenbach)
Getting over the railing was a bit tricky. This was made more complicated by the fact the rope was thread under the railing and we needed to climb over the rail to rappel down.
The idea was of the sort sound in concept, but not so much in execution (although only because it was a rather hairy maneuver). Peter went first, clipping into the chain link section using a sling and then throwing his left leg over. He then clipped a second sling lower down and unclipped the higher sling. Climbing down a little ways, he took up the slack through his belay device. Finally, with one hand holding the rope firmly in his hand, he pulled himself up on the chain link fence just enough so that one of us could unclip his sling. After that, it was very fancy move that involved letting himself down slowly and then quickly transferring his hand to the rope so that he’d have two hands on it.
That was pretty much all there was to it. Peter wrapped the rope around is leg to hold himself in place while he adjusted his grip and then continued to slide down the rope.
As Peter reached the bottom, a small crowd of people began to gather (since the rope was stretched across the walkway, we had everybody halt and carry their bike over the rope). I clipped in and climbed over, but had second thoughts about using just a t-shirt as my hands sole protection from the high heat that would soon build up due to the friction.
Needless to say, setup would be critical for this. After a thorough survey of the bridge, we determined that the best points to tie into would be supports for the railing. It was a thick steel plate with little or no corrosion secured by several large bolts. Stress testing (i.e. yanking on it) indicated that was securely fastened to the bridge.
With that, Peter began the actual setup. We’d have two lengths of webbing (red) attached to the two anchor points (the railing supports) tied using a water knot. The opposite ends would also be tied in a water knot with two opposite and opposing locking carabiners.
The 60 meter rope would be attached to the carabiners with a figure eight loop and the strung across the walkway and over the side. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was the best idea. The structure should have been designed to to support a horizontal load applied to it, but the way the steel was bolted makes me think that applying the load horizontally instead of vertically would increase the shear stress. It probably doesn’t matter that much since the entire railing was over designed (any thoughts on this Peter?).
Satisfied that the system was relatively redundant, we had a quick safety conversation (which pretty much involved me asking how to tie off midway down if I needed to and Ben asking what he should do should one of the points failed). Peter put his pack on and clipped in.
Editors note: Hey, another multi part story/mini series! Lucky for you, dear reader, is that the entire thing is already written! How cool! But wait, if the entire thing is already written, why not just post the whole thing? Three reasons; first, it’s a long piece by my standards – 1200 some words versus the 205 words of most of my posts on average. Second, I personally like to read shorter pieces…even if they’re spread out over several days. Call it a side effect of ADD. Third, like call good writing, I can leave you with a cliff hanger and have you come back the next day to continue reading. Perhaps you’ll even just add my RSS feed to your reader (see, I even made it easy for you!). Stayed tuned for a new part everyday for the rest of this week.
Stories like this always start out with crazy ideas that no one thinks will happen; yet some number of hours later, you find yourself at the bar discussing the heroic adventure.
Such is the case of this story: rappelling off a bridge at Exit 38.
The picture at left shows where we were going to (although we ended up rapping off the other side). We chose this location because A) it was high up (and thus would be more fun according to Peter), and B) there’s a trail leading out (which is always nice).
While I don’t have any official measurements, as best as we (Peter Walchenbach and myself) can figure, it’s about a 50 meter drop. We derived this number using the highly scientific method of tying one end of a known length of rope to the bridge and then tossing the rest over the side. Using a visual spectral observation method (i.e. our eyes), we judged the length of rope laying on the ground down below. Like I said, highly scientific. To give an idea of how far this really was, imagine jumping from the very top of the Statue of Liberty (not including the concrete base). That’s about 3.2 seconds of free fall with a final landing speed of 31 m/s (more or less, there’s some drag not included in that calculation).
As I alluded to earlier, I’m in a climbing class at school. I’ve been climbing more and more over the last few years. Two summers ago I bought shoes and a chalk bag; last summer I bought a harness, locking carabiners, ATC (which actually stands for Air Traffic Control, but it’s a belay device), and some loops of webbing. See: Rappelling at Exit 38. I also started lead climbing over the summer and I really enjoyed it. Lead climbing is different from top roping in that you drag the rope up with you instead of having it already in place.
It’s provides a different kind of (relative) danger/excitement that keeps you safe while offering more of a challenge.
Our rock wall at school just started certifying students to lead on the wall. In order to pass, you have to climb a 5.9, take an unannounced fall (to test the lead belayer), and then complete the route.
Yesterday I decided to try for my certification. The route I chose was a 5.9+ with an overhang (I’ll try to get a picture of it at some point). I had climbed this particular route several times before and even mock lead it earlier.
I went up about six quickdraws and took my unannounced fall.
Falling while lead climbing is very interesting. I’ve had my share of falls while leading and they’re always…interesting. You end up falling quite a ways, maybe three or meters on average because you’re almost always climbing above your last quickdraw. So you fall at least twice the distance your are above your last quickdraw. Then there’s usually some amount of slack in the line, so add that on. And finally the rope is a dynamic, which means that it will stretch a bit as you fall.
Having a dynamic rope is a necessity as it pretty much breaks your fall and makes for a nice and relatively soft recovery, making for an exerience nothing like you’d expect.
After getting back on to the wall, I continued my climb up again. And fell again (on accident) while doing the reach-up on the overhang. I blame that on the fact that I had already been climbing for 2.5 earlier that day. I finally did make it to the top and hooked into the anchors. And that’s when I made by fatal failing mistake.
Z-clipping happens when the climber grabs the rope under the last clipped quickdraw. In other words, on the rope going to the belayer. Then attempts to clip the next protection using that rope. This usually happens when protection is close together.
I got back down to the bottom and we discussed it. I wasn’t too disappointed because I did get to lead climb. I signed the form stating that I failed (which is on record until I pass). I can try again the next day (i.e. today), but my arms (specifically my deltoids) are pretty sore.
Forward to time index +0:20 to see what a lead climb fall looks like. Also note that this guy is doing an announced fall (i.e. his belayer knows that he’s going to fall) compared to our required unannounced fall: