Keeping a Running Commentary While Rappelling

Kevin and I went rappelling back in Australia in the mid-90s. That’s my roommate and best friend Kevin. There were a few of us who went that time, driving up from Sydney to the Blue Mountains and staying at some holiday house with lots of beds. It was organized by a friend of Kevin who liked to plan lots of activities for her non-work hours to keep herself busy. And she did a fine job – the trip was great. We were kept busy.

We started with small, easy drops while we got used to the equipment. As the day progressed we rappelled longer distances with longer overhangs. The final route was off an overhanging cliff with ten feet of rock at the top and thirty meters of overhang. I remember looking down to check how far I would fall if I screwed up. I’m not scared of heights and have always ignored advice to not look down. It was a long way down. I’d be damaged if I fell. Yeah!

As I descended my biggest fear was getting rope burn on my hands. I had not done enough practice of stopping and starting and wasn’t comfortable relying on my braking technique. This was a big mistake on my part. On the earlier routes I had focused on going down as fast and as many times as possible. While this was a lot of fun, I had not focused on getting my technique right for later routes. Now was a little late to be working on my technique.

I was dangling a few meters below the overhang, looking at the erosion patterns on the cliff face a few meters in front of me and noticing that I couldn’t come to a complete stop. I was always sliding down a little. If I went fast my gloves got very hot and I was worried about burning them, if I went slow it hurt less but for longer. I was worried about ripping my hands to shreds. The gloves were already tatty with holes and I think a hole had found its way between the rope and my brake hand. But the only way was down. So, whining and sniveling I slid down the rest of the way and made it to the bottom. I complained about my gloves and I could have complained about the training not emphasizing what I needed to know, but the truth was that it was my fault for not learning how to brake when it was the right time to learn.

What I most remember about that day was a group of Americans who were rappelling by us. This was before I had lived in America, so Americans were exotic. They gave all their actions a running commentary:

“Hey, I got the harness on.”

“My karabiner is in.”

“I’m clicking the rope in.”

“Look at me – I’m dangling in the air!”

“I’m going down.”

“Whoa – I’ve got my feet on the rock.”

“Hey – I made it to the bottom. Woo!”

It was stunning listen to them. They were calling out things that were either obvious or that we didn’t care to know about.

This story came to mind today because Lucy, my six-year-old, does the same thing. She tells all who can hear what she is doing at all times. Since she has a foghorn voice, a lot of people can hear it. I mentioned it with Jean. She found it funny.

“What do you mean? You do the same thing. You’re always talking about what you are doing as though the rest of the world needs to know. Sometimes it’s even interesting,” she said.

After thinking for a while I felt OK with this. I’m an American now and goshdarnit I’ll run a commentary if I want to.


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