Falls and Routine
“Every climber falls, the question is how far.” ~ John Branch
The above quote is from last month’s New York Times, it was in an obituary of sorts for a rock climber named Brad Gobright. A free spirit and great climber, he and a climbing partner set the speed record up the Nose of El Capitan in 2017. Two hours, twenty minutes up 3,000 vertical feet.
It’s probably obvious he did that as a free climber – no ropes. The amount of planning that had to have gone into that climb staggers the imagination. He and his climbing partner had to sketch out and map every inch of the route up. They had to commit it to memory. They had to train, they had to rehearse. They had to prepare to react instantly to the unexpected.
It worked. As it did for many other climbs, some of them famous in the climbing community.
A climb did not kill Brad Gobright. He died while repelling down a slope (left) in Mexico – probably the safest thing he could do on a mountain. He had failed to knot the end of his rope, it slipped through instead of stopping him and he fell 980 feet. His climbing partner was ‘only’ 60 feet or so from the ground, he survived.
This is as striking as it is sad. The simplest, most routine, detail – the kind you do automatically, like putting on a seat belt the second you sit in a car – killed him.
No one will ever know, of course, what happened. A guess: they had just finished a hard climb and were elated. In their hurry to get down they either rushed through – or didn’t bother to go through– their descent checklist and forgot to check the ropes.
After all, after ascending a sheer vertical wall, coming down on ropes was routine.
Routine frequently equals complacency. When dealing with your own life or when entrusted with someone’s future or hopes or dreams or health or anything else they hold dear, there is no such thing as routine.