Musings on climbing and ambition
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite (Monday March 5, 2007 at 8:43 pm)

This wasn’t an ambitious climb by any means, but we were training for other, more ambitious climbs.

Chris Hampson and I set out to climb Overhang Bypass in Yosemite, an easy 5.7, in order to reach the top of Overhang Overpass, a 5.11 thin finger crack about which we knew very little. Chris led the first easy pitch and then we simul-climbed the next 2 – 3 pitches (both parties moving at the same time while the leader places some gear at intervals. I was leading and placed gear every 25 – 30’, which I do no matter how easy the route appears to be.

After I traversed left beneath a roof and then headed back up, I stopped to belay after the rope jammed in a crack at the roof’s edge. I initially set an anchor with the two pieces I had left that were the right size. When Chris arrived, I asked him for the gear and after placing a third cam in the anchor I said, “There, that anchor’s bomb-proof in case anyone takes a whipper.”
Chris replied, “Yeah, but we know that’s not going to happen today.”

He lead up the ‘trough’ which angles up and left toward a ledge, on which he would traverse back right to end up above me. When leaving he said, “I won’t place much gear to avoid rope drag.”

Chris climbed up and left, out of my sight and I could only feed out rope by feel, until only about 20’ remained.

Suddenly I felt a big tug.

Oh no. He must have fallen. I couldn’t see or hear him, but was frightened because he’d said he wouldn’t place much gear. He also wasn’t moving much, from what I could feel of the rope, and the weight wasn’t going off the rope.

We eventually communicated. He fell about 150’. He talked coherently at first, and less so as time passed. Eventually Search and Rescue arrived and rappelled down to him. By the time they got there, Chris had died.

There’s a lot I’ll never forget.

When leaving car, I said, “Oh, I forgot my helmet.” I could have turned back and gotten my helmet, and maybe he would have gotten his.

Where he placed no gear, I would have run it out too, since it was easy ground and we were traversing.

I wear a helmet a lot more now – on all multi-pitch climbs; on hard leads; anywhere with any possible rock fall.

2 comments for Musings on climbing and ambition »

  1. Such a difficult experience… to have been limited in what you were able to do for him at the time. Your reflections on the helmet issue may help remind others to use their protection more often.

    Comment by linda covert — March 13, 2007 @ 7:09 pm

  2. Hi Sybille. Strange to come upon this post almost 6 years to the day after Chris’s accident. Chris was a good friend and my first climbing mentor. He taught me much of what I know about traditional climbing and helped convince me to move to Colorado from the East Cost. He was also the first real “dirtbag” I ever knew. He opened my eyes to the notion of severing worldly attachments and living on the road to climb as much as possible, a notion I have since embraced whole-heartedly. I remember following Chris up countless, then-unthinkable leads in those early days and marvelling at his confidence and composure. Having since hauled newbies up difficult climbs myself, I now appreciate the proficiency it requires and the sacrifice involved. In the weeks leading up to the accident, Chris and I were planning a trip Squamish. After digesting the news of his death, I decided to go anyway. As I sat on the ledge below the last pitch of the Grand Wall, looking out over the Howe Sound, I thanked Chris for his part in opening this vast universe of experience to me. Six years and many adventures later, I can’t imagine life without climbing. Thanks again, Chris. You may be gone, but you’re not forgotten.

    Comment by Josh Finkelstein — June 2, 2009 @ 10:16 am

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