I am able to recognize a face down below; it is Doug. He is running down to
the Gendarme Climbing Shop for the litter. Mike has just fallen somewhere
off of the west face and lies precariously on the ground against some small
trees just south of the top section of Slab Area. "Mike fell" is the
unimaginable thought that raced through my mind. But, he said he was not
going to lead today. Steve calmly asks me to put in a three pieces of
protection and try to sit on the slopping ledge. Clipped in to hand tied
slings and about four different pieces of protection, Steve ties his end of
the rope off to a tree and escapes the belay to go help the others with
Mike. Immediately to my right is another climber working through the crux
moves on Neck Press, a 5.7 rated climb. I can see he is struggling and is
also shaken with what he has heard. He makes it to the ledge at the end of
the first pitch and sits down to collect his thoughts. We look at each other
silently contemplating what has just happened.
What seemed like an eternity, more like ten minutes, Steve returns to lower
me so that I can assist in the rescue of Mike. Alan was already at Mike's
side when I got there. Oh my God the blood. I was not sure exactly where it
was coming from but there was plenty of it. Another party had joined in the
rescue and was giving an account of what happened. Mike, Mark and Doug where
soloing up to the start of the second pitch of Greenwall via Banana then
traversing right. It is some where in between the top of Banana and the
start of the second pitch of Greenwall where Mike fell. Hitting the trail at
the start of Banana did not stop his momentum. As I scrambled down off of
that trail I could see that he must have either bounced off of the ground or
cleared it completely and tumbled down another forty feet or so. Now where
was my joy? Gone, replaced by fear for my new friend's life.
Assisting in the rescue took about three hours. I was amazed how everybody
pulled together setting up belay points down to Roy Gap Road. Amazingly as
we crossed the creek to the road Mike is still conscious. One of the rescue
personnel from the Gendarme climbing shop asked Mike to name the president
of the United States. Mike replied "fucking Reagan". We all busted out
laughing as we walked towards the waiting ambulance across the swinging
bridge. It would be months before we learned of Mike's recovery but he was
back in Florida complete with artificial joints and thinking about climbing
That evening Alan was on the phone to his parents telling them they did not
have to worry about him climbing anymore. Hell, my parents did not even know
I had started climbing so I figured there was no need to tell them that I
was not going to quit. To this day I do not think my mother knows of this
Although Keith was not at Seneca when Mike had his accident it had an impact
on him along with everyone else in our small climbing community. It was
Keith who led the charge to get back on our collective horses. I can recall
the grin on Keith's face as he strolled in to our Sociology class holding a
box from REI. Tearing through the packaging tape like a child on Christmas
morning it contents reviled six bright shinny new Bonattia modified D
carabiners. We did not wait the obligatory 20 minutes for our habitually
late professor, Dr. Stoner, before we bailed.
It was mid-fall and the weather was great, about 70 degrees. We both took
turns leading Ecstasy Jr. I recall vividly sitting a top the third pitch
with the afternoon sun warming my face looking out through the pines at one
of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. The trees were on fire with
vibrant fall colors, the joy had returned.
Keith and I stop at Buck Harper's Store on the way out for a quart of beer
and frozen Snickers. Of course we could not leave with out chatting with old
Buck himself and experiencing his patented West Virginia handshake. The
grip on this man would lead you to believe he could have climbed anything up
on the rocks.
To make sure our groove was properly intact we boulder or buildered almost
everyday after class and stole as much time on weekends away from beer and
sorority chicks as our other urgencies would allow. The following spring I
returned to complete Le' Gourmet Direct with Keith.
Looking back on my first few months of my climbing career I am amazed how
lucky I was to meet the people I did. To them I am eternally grateful for
their willingness to let me be apart of their lives. Especially Keith, he
was mostly responsible for getting me started.
Tried to find an online picture of Tompkins on Hell's Lum but could not.