Monday, February 26, 2007

The Rope

As a rappel master, I'm very careful. Before each day of climbing or caving, I feel each foot of rope, examine each piece of hardware and webbing. I check each knot and attachment point and so does every last person who is going to use it.

"But I don't know what I'm looking at," the rookie complains, "I trust you, you check."

But that violates the First Rule: NEVER DELEGATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY. You think no rookie has ever noticed something that looked weird because the expert got complacent and screwed up? Look for your self.

We check the harnesses. If I'm strong enough I will lift each of the rookies by the attachment point.

Then I'll hook them up and practice a dry run, leaning away from the chasm (or bridge or cliff) and let them play out rope and tighten it up as they slowly lower themselves until they fall on their butts in the dirt. "Ready to try it for real?"

They back up to the cliff, knuckles white (almost always on the wrong part of the rope and I have to pry their non-breaking hand off the attached side of the rope.) "Step off," I say. Their eyes are locked on mine, showing white almost all the way around. Stepping backwards off a cliff is very hard for most people.

"I..I...I don't know," the rookie stammers.

"Do you trust me?"
"Do you trust the rope?"
"Then go."

The rookie takes a breath, steps backward... and is almost always laughing or hooting near the bottom, face split in a wide grin, eyes bright and skin flushed the way it only gets when you conquer a really primal fear.

I don't know how many times I've used that speech or variations of it to talk people through tyrollean traverses in caves, or to jump off a bridge. It's the same in other places.

Do you trust the teacher? Do you trust the skills?
Do you trust the leader? Do you trust the equipment?

There's part of jumping off a cliff that is all you. You have to do the jumping part. But sometimes it is things outside of you that make it safe. You have to check those things yourself- never delegate responsibility for your own safety- but in order to jump with a whole heart, you have to trust the rope.

It's a metaphor. Take it as far as you want. Don't trust stupidly, but trust is just as much an action as jumping.

After crossing (free climb!) the forty-foot pit in Dynamited cave and setting up the tyrollean, the conversation happened word for you: Do you trust me? Do you trust the rope? Then go...

Kyle caught up with me later, "I used that rope thing. It made a good sermon." God as a rope.

I've seen worse analogies.

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