He couldn’t feel his arms. Looking up the face of the wall was almost enough to make him quit. Looking back the way he came gave him vertigo. It felt like his mind was in overdrive. He could hear the loud song of a bird in the treetops beside him and all he could think was that he wished it would shut up, maybe a pinecone fall on its head, something. Was that too much to ask?
“Tension!” he shouted to Emily. He hoped that she wouldn’t have to keep the break on the belay system for long. He was not going to fall.
The burn from the exertion was all he wanted to notice. It made him want to go faster, do better, but he was frozen in the same spot he had been in for the past two minutes. A minute and forty five seconds too long. He didn’t know where to go next. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see another climber progressing past his point. He prided himself in being fast and he was about to lose those bragging rights. The climber paused to smirk at him and he wanted to give him the finger. But no, that would be unbecoming of him. He settled with a glare before he held onto the wall with his left hand and shook out his right arm. He did the same to the other. He had to get rid of the pump because he could feel it settling into his forearms.
“Hey, Adam! Are you ok?” said Ryan as he quickly made progress past him.
“Yeah,” he forced out from between his gritted teeth. He was afraid that if he put his concentration anywhere but on the rock in front of him, he’d fall. Two minutes. Three. Four and still unsure of where his next handhold would be. This was the one thing that could not happen: being unsure. His forearms began to twitch uncontrollably. He could see the veins popping out; full of the blood that was sending lactic acid rapidly through his restricted vessels. He was going to fall from pure exhaustion. But despite all of this, he forced himself to stay calm.
He and Ryan came to the Pinnacles every winter with a few other buddies from work. They knew that the summer months would be hotter than a bazaar in hell in central California so now was the time. They technically came to climb for fun but Adam made everything a competition. He had to if he wanted to be ready for the actual competitions coming up. Ryan was his biggest rival among their group of friends so Adam knew that he was the one to beat. If he didn’t he’d never hear the end of it. He felt new gummies tearing open on his palms and he knew they were probably leaking blood. Another challenge.
Finally, he noticed a handhold just out of reach. It was so miniscule that he was surprised he even found it now. He stretched his body, extending it as far as it could possibly go, and scrabbled with his fingers just underneath the thin ledge. He lunged up and managed to catch a grip but the hold was so thin and so sharp that it drew blood from his fingertips. They shredded further as he pulled his weight up an inch more.
“Son of a bitch!” he said. He didn’t know why but cussing always helped numb the pain and gave him the motivation needed to keep going. He felt a burst of energy as he realized that he was still in this. He didn’t have to repel back down and face what waited for him.
“Slack!” he shouted to Emily. He knew he wouldn’t need it for long, though.
He glanced back up to see where his next hold would be. He was confident that he would be able to finish the rest of the climb pretty easily. He wanted to wipe his dark sweaty hair out of his eyes before he continued on but didn’t want to risk his hands getting even more slippery. If only he didn’t forget his bandana. He knew Emily was probably smugly wearing it since she forgot her own at home.
He smoothly progressed from one hold to the next. There was a two inch ledge so he used a crimp grip. An even smaller protrusion from the rock face called for a pinch. A crack in the wall was just wide enough for him to lock his fingers in. His confidence grew more and more as he intercepted and passed the other climbers. He was quickly closing in on a rockier face of the wall. Once he got there, nothing would stop him from winning.
He was about to clip himself into the next bolt when he heard a shout from below him. He made the mistake of glancing down just as he reached out with his rope and fumbled it. He was caught off guard and tried to correct his mistake but lost his grip altogether. He felt his stomach leap into his chest from the sudden drop. He knew that each lead was about ten feet apart from each other so he was in for quite a fall before it caught him. He just had to hope that the rope wasn’t that elastic.
His arms flailed towards the wall as he fell, hoping beyond hope that he might still rescue himself and finish the climb. He felt the sting of his cut fingertips as he scraped them across the hard rock. His bloody handprints smeared on the wall like a bad slasher film. It took him a moment to realize that he was turtling. He was flipping upside down and could feel the rush of blood to his brain. And just as he realized that, he felt himself get caught by a bolt with shocking force. He swayed there for a moment and tried using all his strength to right himself. He caught a glimpse of the bolt ten feet above him protruding out from the rock face. He could see the rust that dusted the bolt right where it was wedged into the rock. He watched in horror as the bolt snapped from the rock, weak from the rust that corroded the metal. He still hadn’t righted himself and began to fall again, still upside down.
Why wasn’t someone belaying him? He felt around his waist for his harness only to realize that it was gone. He was ejected from the harness and was freefalling towards the valley floor. He tried not to panic but he was freefalling towards the valley floor. He reached his hand out towards the wall in the hopes of slowing his fall but all he accomplished was banging it again on the rock. Would someone catch him? Did they even know he was falling? It seemed as though the dusty floor rushed up to meet him. He tried to curl his body in the hopes of landing anywhere but on his head. But he knew that no matter what he did it wouldn’t stop him from falling.