Everyday Hero: 5 Ordinary Climbers Who Saved a Life

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HeroSplash

Photo: Bligh Gillies.

Unless you’re part of a search and rescue team, you don’t head out for the day expecting to be thrust into a life-or-death situation. Heroism, like the accidents and epics that might prompt it, is something you can’t plan for.

Yet because of experience and training, innate ability and fortitude, or just instinctive reactions in moments of crisis, average climbers can respond to deadly emergencies in extraordinary ways. With courage, calm, stamina, strength, and ingenuity, on a day when nobody expected anything but the simple pleasures of climbing, they end up saving a life.

What would you do in a similar situation? How would you perform? Research psychologists have determined that heroes share a few common traits: Many are open to new experiences, dependable and disciplined, extroverted, compassionate, and emotionally secure. They usually have strong feelings of morality and responsibility. In addition, according to a 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Heroes tend by nature to be hopeful, believing events will turn out well. They consciously try to keep fear from hampering their pursuit of goals, and they tend to block out the possibility of injury or material loss.” They sound a lot like climbers.

We combed through dozens of stories of climbers helping other climbers to find the five amazing examples reported here. Hopefully you’ll never have to respond to a similar crisis. But if the proverbial shit hits the fan, it just might help to know that other climbers have been there before.

Part 1: A Proper Belay

petermem480

Terbush's gravestone.

“Never take your brake hand off the rope.” That lesson is drilled into every climber from the first day he or she ties in, yet it’s all too easy to witness climbers disobeying this fundamental rule simply to swat a fly or reach for a snack. Now imagine keeping your brake hand on the rope even as you stare death in the face.

Part 2: Going for Help

Tent480

Tackle's tent dangles on the steep face after he was cut out of it during rescue.

The “brotherhood of the rope” is the unspoken bond between climbing partners who trust each other with their lives. But what happens when the best way to aid your stricken partner is to leave him behind?

Part 3: Life-Saving Ingenuity

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We’re told to carry the Ten Essentials, but we’re also told “light is right.” Most of the time we climb without all the survival gear needed for every possible scenario. Improvising with the gear we do have becomes essential.

Part 4: Out of Thin Air

YardleyFS

Everyone’s heard the story about a distraught mother lifting a car off her baby pinned underneath. Hoisting a falling climber back up onto a ledge comes pretty close.

Part 5: The Ultimate Body Anchor

Put480

A tiny ledge three pitches off the ground. The anchor is unclipped. Your belayer has just fallen over the edge. Now what?