If you are new to climbing or have never been, let me first explain what multi-pitch climbing is. Multi-pitch, is exactly how it sounds. Instead of doing one single climb (or pitch), you do multiple. That means once the first climber gets to the top of the anchor (or belay station) the second climber is belayed up to meet them there. From here, the team continues climbing additional pitches until the full climb is done. Sometimes this can be hundreds even thousands of feet high!
Now that I have explained multi-pitch, let me set the scene for you. My partner and I decided to climb El Cajon Mountain on a pre-summer day, which isn’t actually too ideal considering the temperatures get hot and the face is exposed in direct sunlight. Once we got to the rock I was nervous and excited. Naturally, I hiked out about 200 yards to go dig my hole and move my bowels (6 inches deep is the recommendation:). When I got back we started to prepare by doing our safety checks. I knew I was ready the moment my palms started to sweat.
When Matt (my partner) got to the top, he anchored himself into the rock and I started to climb up to meet him. At the top of the first pitch I thought to myself, “Whew! One pitch down, two more to go!” And as I do thoroughly believe that it’s important to enjoy and be present in the journey, it also feels so good to get to that end-point! I felt relieved and closer to satisfaction knowing my capabilities as a climber. When we got to the top of that last pitch, I was stoked and simultaneously ready to get down!
And that’s what we did! We rappelled down and when we got back to the the top of the second pitch, shit kinda hit the fan. We had thrown the rope down (without considering the wind) and it got stuck in-between two rocks. My heart got heavy and my heart-rate quickened. I intuitively knew that everything was going to be okay. However, my mind was racing with ideas. At one point, I actually thought if need be, the next plane that flew across the sky, if I stripped down they would somehow see me better and think “hmmm, maybe those naked people stuck on that mountain, might need help”. My logic when in panic mode is a little bit off! I won’t leave you hanging there, but first, I would like to share what I learned from this experience…
Communication is key.
Communicating with your partner, from doing safety checks to letting them know how you’re feeling and what you are thinking. Even if your partner doesn’t have an answer for you, to verbalize your thoughts can be extremely beneficial in moments of panic. This way you can truly focus on individual ideas and it can resolve some of the intensity. Also, let friends know where you are going. Smartphones make it easy, drop a pin before leaving and give them an estimate of when you will be back.
Stay calm and breathe.
While in high stress situations, it is always important to stay calm and focus on the breath. Breathing helps calm down your nervous system and cardiovascular system which ultimately will allow you to think clearer and have less reactive thoughts. Also, believe that everything will be fine.
Hydrate and bring enough food.
No excuses here! Hydration and having healthy snacks is important because if blood sugar drops so does our energy level along with cognitive function. Keep your body happy and your energy stable. Before you start trekking, eat a nutrient-rich meal and drink extra water. Bring electrolytes to retain the body’s water balance (I like Vega or Emergen-C packets).
Always bring an extra layer.
Before leaving, check the weather. It can be unpredictable so go prepared. Whether you are protecting your skin from the sun or simply want to stay dry from rain, your pack may be heavier but you won’t regret bringing it when in need.
Bring a headlamp.
Even if you are planning to be out for the day, you never know when things will happen and you stay out into the night. It’s also a good tool to have incase you need to flag someone down while on the mountain.
Luckily in our situation, we had cell phone service. And after 30 minutes of being stuck on the rock, with little food, water, or protection from the sun, we called a few friends to help us out. Matt rappelled down to the end of the rope using a Prusik knot for safety. When he got to the end of the rope and untangled it from the rock, he jugged back up. I was scared and concerned, but that fact that he felt confident in the situation, reassured me. We made it down and once I had my feet on solid ground, I couldn’t have been more grateful to have had that experience. Because after all, it is in those moments, of when shit hits the fan, that we learn the most.