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Anchors Away (An Accident Report)


by Unknown

May 01, 2001

I was recently sitting at home contemplating a trip to the Texas Hill Country, home to some very fine bouldering. Running over some friends' names, people that might like to pitch in for gas and food and wouldn't whine because the real rock was shredding their gym-happy hands, I was reminded of why I boulder, for the most part, and leave my ropes and such at home.

It was a clear and cool September morning, the 30th, if I remember correctly, and my in-laws were down for the day. Yea. So much fun. I watched in misery as my whole day choked and gasped for air, then crawled to my feet and died. Ah, damn. Things started out alright. I made coffee, cooked some of my grandma's chipped beef gravy stuff and eggs and all that, and everybody seemed to be happy. As long as I remained quietly in the kitchen, or on the couch, or on the throne, or anywhere where I could sit quietly, I knew they would talk around me and I wouldn't have to make small talk. My inability to make small talk is the stuff of legend. Everything was going well until my thirteen year old brother-in-law pulled out my climbing shoes.

"Hey Brandl, what the heck are these? Ballet shoes? hehehe..." I should perhaps point out that my wife hails from a very rural, very small, very country town in West Texas, where basketball and football reign, the men are men and the women are tougher than you, me, and a regiment of Marines. Needless to say, Jared, the b-i-law, was cut from the same cloth, except he lacked the tempering of age and had all the "put-you-on-the-spot"-edness that youth gives the young. I had been called out.

"No, Jared, those are climbing shoes." I used my most intellectual tone. "The sole is made of a special friction-inducing compound that allows one to adhere to a rock surface more easily. They are, by necessity, tight, to give one a more solid feel for the rock." I took a deep breath and cocked my head slightly to one side. Smart ass kid! At this point, one of the adults would have said, "Well, ain't that something," then would have turned away and sort of smiled and shook their head at their partner, thinking 'Lord, what kind of pansy did my daughter marry'.

"Well, they look like you could do ballet in them." Jared has no tact.

"Well, Jared, you can't, and to prove it to you why don't we go climbing out at Buffalo Lakes?" This was a lake home division that had been dug and fabricated out of some pretty good rock, after you farmed all of the caliche and loose crap out of it. It had never been developed.

After the necessary permissions from parents and wife had been obtained, I gathered my gear, at the time consisting of a harness, my chalk bag, the afore-mentioned shoes, thirty feet of static line, four nuts, an ATC, and a figure-eight. I had been climbing for approximately three weeks. We hit the road.

"So, what's it like?"

"Well, Jared, climbing is more about style. You want to use your feet more than anything, you know, like your hands and arms, doing pull-ups and shi...stuff. You get pumped super quick then you have to wait like ten or fifteen minutes to cool back down." I knew what I was talking about here. I hadn't yet learned the art of locking-off and straight arm hanging and could frequently be found resting off a lightning pump.

We pulled up to the guard shack, paid our three bucks (two for adult, one for child) and drove in. I pulled up at the "shoreline" of the lake, a small strip of sand, gathered my gear, and climbed out.

With "cliffs" sloping up to end at an abrupt rim, Buffalo doesn't look like it would offer much, and it doesn't. The rim itself varied between twelve feet and thirty. It encircled the entire lake and was our destination for the day.

"Let's hit it."

Jared led the way up the trail through the scrub brush, up to the rim, and to the top. We scouted around for some bouldering problems, stuff to do just to get our feet wet. It was one of my first real excursions to the outside too.

We found some caves, hollowed out from rain, people, giant moles, whatever, that led from the top down to the base of the rim. These offered egress back and forth, and had some fun problems around the entrances at the bottom. I should mention that every problem was highball, starting at the junction of slope and rim. To fall was to land, then roll to the bottom of the canyon. We had negelcted to procure a gravitationally-assisted-downward-trajectory-flight-path-resistance/buoyancy-device. We didn't have a crash pad.

We bouldered around all day, having a great time. Jared actually loosened up, I losened up, and we got to talking. I shared some stories from when I was in the Navy, he told me about football and track, things he had blown up at the gravel pit with help from his friends and some sawed open shotgun shells, things only guys could appreciate. And we bouldered, bouldered, bouldered. Right up until we saw The Cliff.

"Hey, Brandl, think we could do that?"

"Yeah, but let me get my harness and stuff. Then we can rappell down it."


We hiked up to the base of The Cliff. To get there requires a quarter mile hike up a caliche road, hang a left into the scrub when you see the old telephone post Boy Scout bridge, bail off to the bottom of this offshoot canyon, come out the other side, and go through some mediocre mesquite brush. All while walking around a scree field. We got up to it and Jared took off, his size thirteen basketball shoes sketching all over the place. The climb ended twenty-five, thirty feet off the deck. "Come on, it ain't nothing."

I started up and before I could take a deep breath, there we were.

I looked at Jared. "Huh."

He looked at me. "Huh."

I looked around for a place to set up an anchor. No trees, no likely rock, no nothing, except a plate of the same chossy stuff we had been climbing all day, raising its back through the grass, much like a breeching whale. I took a #5 BD nut from my harness and sunk it in a crack in the plate, hooked a biner through the eye, clipped it to my harness through the eight, and strode magnificently back to the edge.

"I'll go first."

I sat back in my harness, locking off the rope as I did. Right at the committing move, when you really lean all your weight into the rig, right when your butt is over the edge and your feet are half on top, half on the wall, the nut popped, and I fell. And fell. And fell. I saw the ground hurtling up to me through my sunglasses. The picture was shaky and blurred, moving at the speed of light, brown scrub, green leaves, and dirty gray-brown rock. I fell so long that I had time to scream, take in a breath, and scream some more. I cratered then, landing flat on my feet, a massive tangle of rope, jingling gear, arms, legs, rock ,and dust. The impact was not unlike a high speed collision. A jolt went through my body and before I could even register what was going on, I was tumbling backwards, head over butt over heels over whatever else comes after that. After rolling about fifteen feet or so, I came to a halt, feet facing downslope. My back was on fire.

"Oh, F_U_!" This from Jared, he who doesn't cuss. He came literally flying down the side via a small trail to the left and ran down to were I was, eyes wide.

"Jared, get the keys and run back to the truck." I was so confused and hurting I was gritting my eyes and squinting my teeth, not knowing which way was up. The dust from the ground was clogging up my nostrils and coating my throat. I coudn't make the pain stop, no matter which way I squirmed on the ground.

"Where are they?"

"At the top, in the harness bag. Hurry."

He took off for the top again, came hurtling back down with the bag, and was off like a spooked antelope through the brush, over the canyon, and down to the truck, about a quarter of a mile. Have you ever waited in the dust on a hot day, lying on your side or face, curled in a ball because that sort of helps with the pain, with injuries that you don't know the extent of? In case you haven't, allow me to illuminate the sensation for you: it SUCKS.

Jared did eventually make it back and, with the aid of a cedar walking stick I keep in my truck box, I was able to hobble through the scrub and over the canyon to the truck.

It turned out I had fractured two vertebrae and broken my right ankle in a very weird spot, the talus bone right under the leg bone. I rehabed, got better, and still climb.

Jared won't even talk to me now. Oh, well. Lesson? Back it up, make sure, and don't climb with your in-laws.

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Live To Climb