An ‘Act of God’ is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible. This does not protect those who put others in danger of acts of nature through negligence, such as an adult who instructs a group of children to stand under a tree to escape a lightning storm. However, the legal term, “Act of God”, does not necessarily imply that God had a direct intervention which specifically caused a “natural” occurrence or disaster.
Now that we have that straightened out, you should know that free soloing isn’t for everybody, and it’s not always for me either. I’ve probably backed off from as many pitches as I’ve topped out. They say grades don’t matter in climbing, well, when you solo, they matter even less. I’ve backed off a 5.7 slab because it felt insecure, but later in the day soloed a 5.12b roof. It’s not what is harder or easier, it’s what feels harder or easier. Feeling is the most important part of the game, not thinking. Well one time, I was feeling on top of the world, I was higher than a kite, and suddenly without warning, it all came crashing down and it left me thinking…
– The pleasant chirping of birds echoed softly against the massive granite face before me, a morning song. The infamous coastal wind swept up and across my face as I finished the crux sequence, and the classic fissure opened to swallow my knuckles deep. I still remember my shoes sticking like velcro and clamping down tightly onto those tiny crystals, I felt the tight lock take hold of my fingers and secure any drifting thoughts I may have had. A smile came over my face while reaching for my chalk bag and I knew with all certainty that this was exactly where I wanted to be, where I needed to be, it was the only place that felt exactly right. With only a few more feet to the ledge…
Like the sound of a hot bullet whizzing by my face from an old Clint Eastwood Western, the rock that nearly killed me, the rock I never saw, ripped into the wooded forest behind me and bounced off (what seemed like) every single tree to the highway below. I stared intently at the crystal white scar it left behind, only 16 inches from my pale face, still smoking like incense burning inside an ashram, while the knocking sound of hollow wood lingered in the air for longer than I’d like to remember. What the fuck? I thought, practically laughing to myself. As if that just happened? My face slowly drained of its warm blood and enthusiasm – what was once an extended moment of jubilation suddenly shifted into superstition and trepidation. Does it always happen like this? I looked up to see if I was in any more danger, to see if I could avoid getting hit by a close relative, who knows, maybe a big brother, but how much wiggle room did I really have to work with?
Nearly an entire rope length above the forest floor, my scattered mind began pondering the idea of luck vs fate, chance vs destiny, chaos vs predetermination, but there was no time for this shit, this senseless talk was for drunks during ungodly hours of the night, not a soloist. Without a rope, and zero backup, I had to make a decision, up or down? There was no way of knowing if another rock was on its way south bound to meet me, perhaps this time with the initials S.J.T. etched into the side of it? Even if it hit me in the arm, hand or shoulder I was still a dead man, at least if it hit me on the head I wouldn’t be thinking clearly enough to care. Ha. I began a quick but very precise climb back down to the ground, reversing every lock, smear and shuffle I performed on the way up.
On a good day Exasperator is one of the most enjoyable free climbs in the world. Especially the ‘second pitch’ where I was resting, where the climb traverses left across the wider seam. I would have down climbed it anyway (there’s no easier way off) but I was hoping to rest at the belay for a while, who knows, maybe take my shoes off, pull in some deep breaths and enjoy the sensational lookout. I never assumed I’d be a mark, retreating like a wounded soldier. Just a few moves from the station.
The fact is, I was wounded. Perhaps not my body, but my mind – at least for a short time.
For the rest of the day I pondered what would’ve happened had I been one move too late? 10 seconds and 16 inches to the right and I would have taken that falling rock right between these Irish eyes. I wonder if they’d be smiling? – So what force allowed me to step aside before the bullet rocketed down to earth? I came to a very important conclusion that it was nothing at all. I think it was just life being life – completely random and perfectly unexplainable. I could have picked another great climb with a slightly lower level of objective hazards. I could have, but I didn’t. I picked this line for this time for its beauty and quality, I picked this day in October for it’s high friction and low traffic. I never saw a car in the parking lot. I feel I made smart choices, I did what I could and yet the rock still fell. Why? Who knows! Who cares! Maybe it was a squirrel, maybe a snake, maybe a tourists warming up their pitching arm OR maybe it was just time it fell, but I think it is futile to always try and make sense of this crazy world. We don’t know why some things happen and others don’t, and I’m assuming we never will. So I ain’t spending more time thinking about it, I’m just glad I got down.
But, here is what I DO know, soloing is one of the best sensations I’ve ever felt, it is a feeling I knew I would enjoy from the moment I stepped off the ground for the first time. It doesn’t mean I enjoy it everyday, nor do I enjoy being terrified, but I do like to practice a little bit of ‘amplification‘ from time to time. I find it makes the fruit taste a little sweeter. So was it neglegence on my part? Debateble. I think I’ll continue on my merry way and chalk this one up as an inaction of god. A close call with zero questions and even fewer answers.