Friday, December 11, 2015

You never know when?

Back when I was in China, my partner and I biked out to the big banyan tree crag, just 4km outside Yangshuo. We left on an early Saturday morning for an attempt at what is said to be one of the best 5.12’s in the area. The route was called the ‘’Todd Skinner Line’’ graded 7b (5.12b). It was obviously one of the most popular routes at the crag. It is a very straight forward powerful climb. The guide book describes the route as a ‘’sustained pumpfest’’. As I was getting ready to climb, my partner obviously looking at my harness said: ‘’I can’t believe your still climbing with that old harness! Seriously, you should get a new one’’. I had a quick look at my harness and could only agree that she was right. ‘’I’ll buy one soon’’ I promised. She was right, but I loved my harness. It had followed me through thick and thin and I hated the idea of replacing it.

As I started to climb, I couldn’t help but notice the bolts looked out of shape. They were getting a little old and rusty. We should make sure this route gets rebolted I thought. On top of that, I was still thinking about my harness. I really needed to get a new one. Instead of acting smart, I don’t know why, I pushed on. I tried hard to swat these ideas out of my head. But the higher I got over that rusted bolt the lower my mental game was. My legs started shaking uncontrollably and my arms felt like someone was pouring hot Chinese tea onto them. I was pumped and I wasn’t even half way up yet. I pushed through and clipped the next bolt but as I got higher the inevitable happened. I took some airtime. It felt like the biggest whipper in my life, but in reality it was just an ordinary short & safe fall. If someone else had observed the scene he probably would have chuckled a bit at the sound of my scream. As I looked around, the bolt had held and so did my harness.  Why was I so freaked out?

Tod Skinner
Later, I thought of Todd Skinner and the legend he was. I read about his achievements and his death. It made me think about how illogical it was for someone like me with an old shitty harness to climb like it’s no big deal. Worst of all, is the fact that I mindlessly tempted faith by testing my ‘’shitty harness’’ on the Todd Skinner’s line.

Todd Skinner died on Yosemite’s leaning tower in 2006. He was killed when his worn belay loop broke while rappelling from Ahwahnee Ledge. He fell 500 feet to find his death at the base of the tower. Four days before the tragedy, Skinner’s partner, Jim Hewett, had noticed that his leg loops and belay loop appeared a little worn out.  “I very much stressed to him that that’s not good,” said Hewett.  Skinner answered that Hewett was right and that he had a new one on the way. The death of Todd Skinner could have been prevented easily had he backed up the loop with a cordelette or a sling. Belay loops are made to be as strong & durable as possible but they aren’t indestructible.

As climbers it is ingrained in us to push ourselves beyond the limits. The strongest climbers will talk about how important it is to turn your brain off and just go for it. At times, we need to be risk-takers to succeed but we also need to be smart ones. Gear isn’t cheap and it’s easier spending money on traveling and climbing than buying new stuff but I want to keep doing what I love. I want to keep others around me safe and I feel like in the end; it’s no big deal to be a little cautious and climb with proper gear. 
Todd Skinner, rest in Peace!

How to install a backup

Climb on & don't forget to check your gear! 
Vincent Kneeshaw 
Rad Climbers ©

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