Lessons Learnt: Memoirs of a Rock Trundler
Artwork by Elena S
Twenty meters above the ledge, I contemplate my fate as the rock atomizes in the valley below, shards peppering the trees. The surge of adrenaline was masking the pain, but I knew something was wrong.
EARLIER THAT DAY
I was out for a weekend of rock climbing with friends in an area generally untouched by climbers. First ascents, or getting up a route first before anyone else, was one of our goals. As well as the adventure of being first up a route, you also get to name the climb as well, a little incentive I guess.
The granite outcrop that was our focus, Mount Walsh, about 3 and a half hours north of Brisbane in Australia, was ripe for the picking in these first ascents. Pink, white and red walls rise up from the bush, and loose boulders sit in jumbled heaps atop their rounded domes.
It was adventure climbing at its best!
STEP 1: PICK YOUR CLIMB CAREFULLY…
I had picked an off-width that looked relatively easy to do. A big chimney section with what looked to be a slightly wider than fist size exit at the top.
I grabbed my friend Josh, who patiently belayed me while I grunted and scraped up my first chimney ever.
The action really started on the exit of the chimney. Going arm deep in the crack, I somehow flung myself awkwardly around the overhang and hauled myself into the opening above.
Positioned so conveniently that I suspected nothing amiss, I grabbed a large rock wedged under another big boulder on top. Alarmingly it swung like a door with my pull, and froze me in place.
One move and the thing might fall off, crushing me or hitting Josh below.
Moving slowly, I got up without disturbing it further but couldn't take my eyes off its precarious position. One move. A breath even. That might be all it takes.
I had a choice then.
The easiest way to get out of the place was for Josh to follow up as we had abseiled into the area and he could also collect the gear I had placed. Abseiling back down would put me in harms way of the rock, should it move.
So my thoughts started on the path of a planned trundle.
Trundling is the practice of dislodging or removing rocks off walls, cliffs and high places. It is either done to make it safe, or sometimes just for fun. I know, I know, for fun you ask? Are you nuts? Like some forbidden dark art, trundling can be done for fun. Its primal, I guess. Watching rocks pulverize below, its like being a kid again.
But today it wasn’t for fun, it was to make it safe.
STEP 2: IT’S A GOOD PLAN, RIGHT?
Minutes tick by as I run the scenarios in my head. I inform Josh of my plans. The best way to keep Josh safe, was for him to clamber up a meter and get inside the chimney. There was no way he could get hit in there. We could swing the rope out of the way so there wasn’t any chance of it getting cut. And as we were located well away from any trails, perhaps even bordering on a ‘remote’ area of the park, there would be no one around below. We would give ample warning anyway, of course.
It was a sound plan. But what is it that they say? Even the best plans never survive first contact with the enemy?
With everything in place, I spent a few minutes yelling out ‘rock’- the common call when something's falling or about to fall. My voice now hoarse, it was now or never. Positioning myself above the rock as best as I could, I gave it a push with my right foot.
Like a door swinging off its hinge, it pivoted, grinding deeply, before dislodging from its place under the big boulder above.
With horror I watched as instead of plunging down, it flipped off the rock wall towards me, grabbing my foot in a sudden vicious pull I couldn’t resist. I feel it bend the toes back towards the heel and a sharp jolt pass up my leg.
But the jolt doesn’t turn to pain, yet, as my heart quickens and the surge of adrenaline makes my eyes burn with clarity. Sounds become tinny. I feel strong.
The rock, shattering in the valley below after bouncing off our rocky ledge, sends fragments into the trees like a shotgun. Branches vibrate and shake. The crack echos through the valley and the smell of sulphur and iron seep into my nostrils moments later.
I was lucky, sort of. Had it changed angle slightly and not caught on the rock face below my foot, it may have crushed my foot completely, or worse, pinned me in my own 127 hours movie.
But it hadn’t. However, I am also not sure exactly what the damage is at that point. Something feels wrong with my foot.
STEP 3: LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!
I set about bringing Josh up from below, belaying him from the top. As time passes, the pain increases. I pop some pain relief.
We now have a long scramble and decent to get off the mountain. Normally, a quick pace might get you there in an hour and a half. Once we are out of the thick bush and onto the trail, I pull out my first aid kit and bandage the foot to give it some support.
The swelling is getting worse but I think I can make it to the car.
Hobbling on one foot, Josh takes our packs while I gingerly make my way down the steep track. It takes over 3 hours to get back. It’s a blur of pain.
We had brought drinks that weekend which meant we had an cooler box full of ice. Just what I needed. With Josh driving, the ride home was manageable at least.
A TRUNDLE TO FAR?
In a state of denial I waited until the next day to visit the doctor. The damage was not as bad as I had expected. Some torn ligaments, a bit of blood pooling inside the foot, a far cry from what it could have been- a crushed foot.
A few days after...
Trundling is fairly common in the climbing world. New climbing areas harbour loose rock to varying degrees, and often, its best to clean them before the masses arrive.
I also wonder if I really had to do the trundle that day. I probably could have worked out some alternatives, eventually. But the immediate ones all pointed to a safe trundle as the best plan. It was adventure climbing after all, loose rock is a part of it.
I also realize, no matter how good your plan, there's always something unexpected that can happen. You go out to trundle a rock, and the rock might just trundle you.
Lessons Learnt is a series documenting or telling the story of the adventures and epics that could have been avoided, done differently, or at least, provide a lesson on what not to do. Some details or events may be simplified, left out, or added for story telling purposes, and the sole purpose is to provide entertainment, not instruction.