Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ripping the Parthian Flake

Moments before impact. Simon Wilson photo- don't steal.
Si's website:

Two months ago I ripped off the flake on Parthian Shot, at Burbage South in the Peak District. Tim Emmett, trusted friend and well-known British climber, belayed me, and eventually piggy-backed me down the trail. Thanks to everyone who lent a hand that evening- I really do appreciate it. I haven't put anything on the blog about it until for a couple reasons. Basically, other things in life derailed me for a bit, and I didn't want to revisit the experience.

But, here's the rundown for all those interested.

I had spent a few days on the gritstone previously and was eager to try a real 'hard grit' line. And Parthian didn't dissapoint. Incredible movement on a wild prow, very physical and delicate at the same time. As many of you know, the main gear is a string of wires and one small cam in the flake, which is at a little over half height.

Tim and I fooled around on the line all afternoon, dialing in the nuances and getting a feel for it. I one falled it on toprope. At that point I decided I would try to lead it. My friends Alex Honnold, Matt Segal and Kevin Jorgenson all took multiple wingers onto the flake. While I knew it wasn't 100 percent bomber, I thought it was more or less okay. There's always the unknown factor with headpointing. The element that makes is so exciting and dangerous at the same time.

I waited until sunset, tied in, climbed to the flake and wasted tonnes of energy getting the gear just right. Perhaps it wasn't 'just right'. I don't know. I hung on the gear, wondering what to do. It was getting dark. Finally, I decided to just punch it to the top. If I was ever going to have a hope in hell of successfully leading the pitch, I needed to know what it felt like to go for it above the flake.

As I climbed higher I got a deep pit-in-my-stomach feel that something wasn't right. The superstitious feeling came too late, though- I was way above the flake without a hope of downclimbing. The next thing I knew I was on the ground, spitting blood, struggling to breathe. I tried to weight my left foot, but I immediately knew it was broken. It felt like the bones were swimming. I suspect I fell somewhere between 35- 40 feet.

After Tim gave me a jarring piggy-back to the gravel trail (I had cracked a vertebrae, but thought it was just whiplash). Then the Mountain Rescue people came and took me to the ambulance. Again, thanks so much to everyone for the help.

I've spent the last couple months trying to comes to terms with the accident. Many hours behind the wheel, driving, trying to come up with a bumper-sticker slogan to slap onto the whole miserable affair. But I have nothing. No 'take home lesson', no moral. There's a thousand little decisions that lead up to any accident, and I wish I could pinpoint where it all went wrong. If anything, I've concluded that my headspace wasn't up to snuff for hard grit climbing that day. I wish I could have recognized that, and taken a step back. All I know is that was a monstrous digger, and I got really, really lucky.

Here's a quote that I like by Steve House. He's talking about the North Twin in the Canadian Rockies, but I can relate. I love Steve's writing so much.

"Learn something from our climb if you will, but you might be better off without the knowledge. I'm not advocating that you ignore the lessons of the past, but neither can you allow yourself to be chained by the weight of what happened before you. Don't limit yourself by mythologizing the past...

Today might be your day. Go."

I don't know why I like that quote so much. It reminds me of being a teenager, and trying hard, legendary routes in Squamish that had big reputations. Maybe because it encapsulates the randomness of it all- that 'you never know until you try' adage. Therein lies the moral, perhaps: what I learned in the UK can't be gleaned from an article, or a blog post. It only comes from experience, the harshest teacher of all.

I'm rambling... time to go ride the stationary bike and do my foot exercises.... :)