by Lynn Hill
The Petzl RocTrip event in the Red River Gorge this past weekend was certainly "eventful". This year Petzl joined forces with the RRGCC (Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition) annual fundraiser called, Roctober Fest to help raise money to buy a large section of cliffs in the Red River Gorge area. With contributions from Petzl, generous private donations, as well as many smaller contributions from the climbing community, the RRGCC raised a significant chunk of money toward this land purchase.
As per the usual Petzl RocTrip format, many top climbers from Europe and the U.S. came together to climb some of the most challenging routes in the Red. In order to raise additional funds, several climbers, including myself, offered clinics on Friday to the first fifteen people that signed up. One-hundred-percent of the proceeds went toward the RRGCC land trust fund.
On Saturday, the Petzl athletes participated in the Flash contest, where we simply tried to flash (to climb a route on the first try without falling) whatever route we were inspired to climb at a cliff called the Motherlode. I had never climbed in the Red before so it was a real treat to have the opportunity to climb on these fun and beautiful routes. Either the ratings were a bit generous or this type of climbing suits me well because I don't normally cruise up 5.12d's and 5.13a as I did at this crag. The rock is very accommodating for small people since there are plenty of holds to choose from and the rock is not particularly hard to read. There didn't seem to be many desperate crux moves on the routes I did except one on the 5.13a, but these routes did require a high degree of endurance. I enjoy this style of climbing since I can usually find ways to rest and recover strength on such routes and it’s a great way to build strength.
Having brought my son, Owen, along on this trip, I was a bit limited on time so I didn't even get a chance to try any of the so-called bounty routes, which were either classic test pieces of the area, or routes that were waiting for first free ascents. By the end of the weekend, only a few of the bounty routes had been completed, including one route rated 5.14b.
On the last day (Sunday), I did get to try one project that was a traditional style route that hadn't been free climbed yet. I joined a large group of climbers who went to a new cliff called the Chocolate Factory, where there was an extremely overhanging crack in a dihedral that closed down to a seam toward the top — the last move of which was a long jump to a ledge. After waiting around for eight people to give this climb a try including climbers such as Steve McClure, Sonnie Trotter, Daniel Du Lac, Mike Doyle, and Katie Brown, I finally decided to give it a burn. Surprisingly I made it to the very last move on my first try and just before launching to the final hold, I glanced down at the two small stoppers in the crack way below my feet. I was pumped and barely able to hang onto the thin edges in the crack, and the jump seemed really far so I decided to grab the quick draw at the belay instead. Once I clipped in, I did the move easily and immediately regretted my cowardly decision. Yes, it does happen to me sometimes…
As soon as I finished the route, Keith Ladzinski (photographer) informed me that I had ruined my FFA ascent (first female ascent). In earlier days, I probably would have gone for it since the glory of victory overpowered my fear of falling. But these days, my objectives have shifted and I'm more interested in preserving my health and safety, particularly for the sake of my family. Ironically, this climb nearly cost me my son's life.
Throughout the day, Owen was literally hanging out around the corner, swinging around on a rope and playing with the various friends hanging around. But at the end of the day when the last person went up to clean the gear out of the route, we went over to the base to hang out with the others. Owen wandered up to the base where a few friends were sitting, when all of a sudden, I saw large chunks of rock flying through the air. Sonnie and I watched helplessly as three pieces of rock sailed through the air, one of which flew right past my son's head! I've always been afraid of rock fall, and of bringing my son to the base of cliffs for this reason (yes, even in sport climbing areas). In fact, I rarely take Owen to the base of cliffs for this reason. This experience has confirmed my opinion that unless it is an extremely safe situation, kids do not belong at the base of cliffs.
Accidents always seem to happen when you least expect. This was an important lesson for me and I hope this experience serves as an important warning for others too.