Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ropes & Rocks

Or, Throwing Yourself At The Ground And Missing

Eric at Straight White Guy has a couple of posts up that zipped me back in time about 20 years. He's writing about rock climbing, and how much thinner he was back in the day! Ain't that da bleedin' troot!

I used to spend summer breaks as a Boy Scout camp staffer, specializing in the goofy shit that they now call "extreme" sports. Though I settled into mostly doing black powder rifle instruction, the Adventure crew were all cross-trained in each other's areas. In case one of us got snakebit or fell off a cliff, the others could step in and cover your program, 'cause "the show must go on!"

Rock climbing and rappelling was a coveted slot on the Adventure roster. Many was the afternoon where we'd shoo off the "grubbies" (the young Scouts, who always seemed to acquire a thin layer of dirt that persisted in spite of swimming and showers) and we'd head to the rock wall to do some damage to ourselves.

This was before the days of fancy buckle-in harnesses. We were tying Swiss seats out of yards and yards of thick webbing, and if there was a safety helmet on site, I never saw it. No one wore gloves, except for a guy named Duane, who we dubbed "Ladyfingers". Most times we just looked for the hardest way up the rock, then threw ourselves off it, trusting on the belay and the 1/2" climbing rope. I think the Euro folks call rappelling "abseiling". We called it a shitload of fun! Later in the summer, we advanced to "Aussie-style" rappelling, where you go down the wall face-first.

Fast forward to college, and the time I took an ROTC intro course for my PE credit. It consisted of two weekly classroom sessions and a Saturday a.m. lab session where the ROTC cadets abused us in numerous ways.

The cadets kept warning us of "Pass/Fail" day, and how scared we should be. Many of the other frosh were pretty nervous, but I'd been tipped off by an RA in my dorm.

Pass/Fail Day was a trip to the rappelling tower. To pass, you had to make a successful rappel, preferably from the top. The tower was a triangular beast with a staircase on the interior, with a low wall, a high wall and a helicopter skid up top. Maybe 60 foot high, perhaps a little taller for the 'copter skid. I think the cadet instuctor twigged to the fact I was ahead of the game when I had my seat tied and the 'biner attached while most of the class were still unrolling their webbing. He didn't say anything, just tugged on the 'biner a couple of times, eyeballed my knots, and pointed me to the tower.

When I got to the top, one of the cadets was already in full on Drill Instructor mode, giving his best R. Lee Ermey imitation. While he's barking about his fail rate to those of us up there, I'm buckling the helmet, getting the rope around the figure 8, and leaning backwards off the high wall. He turned to spew some invective to some kid from Hall 14, I yelled "On Rappel!", and as soon as I got the "On Belay" reply, WHOOSH! I'm off the wall. I wish I could describe the look on that cadet's face when he leaned out and saw me falling. He thought he was watching his career leap off that tower!

I tried as hard as I could to make it to the ground in one leap, but the gear wasn't what I was used to, and I swung into the wall about 20 feet off the deck, kicking off and zipping the rest of the way down.

Yeah, I caught some shit for it. It was worth it, though! They let me rappel off the 'copter skid! No wall, just a quick slide down.

I can still do it. I remember the knots, the gear and the procedures. I just need a thicker rope...