With temperatures rising and full-fledged summer approaching, now seems to be a good time to address one of Utah’s premier sports: falling off high places.
The state is a popular destination for hikers thrilled by its breathtaking scenery and rugged landscape, a great deal of which is straight up and down.
Know what else is breathtaking? The sudden realization that there’s nothing between you and the ground except air. There are no toe holds in oxygen. I know. I’ve tried it.
Not on purpose. The first attempt occurred years ago at Lake Powell under the following conditions: I was young, not entirely myself, and accompanied by friends of dubious nature.
There was also the issue of impression. For example, there were girls present whom I felt some irresistible and stupid biological need to impress.
Furthermore, I, like most idiots, had long labored under the impression that I was immortal.
And, finally, there’s the impression I left on the ground.
It was only about 80 feet, but I landed hard enough that the rivets in my cutoffs, my sunglasses, and both knees were clearly visible in the sandbar that arrested my fall.
I didn’t realize until a couple of days later, when I returned to being entirely myself, that I had fractured a wrist. Let that be a lesson. The dulling of pain is the only reason anyone should ever consider free climbing while drunk.
For those who have yet to experience significant ineptitude at altitude, there are two types of climbing disasters: The one that ends in death or injury because of a fall, and the one that requires the shame of a public rescue.
Most people are familiar with the climb that ends in a fall. Whether it’s a set of stairs or attempting to summit a famous peak, we’ve all had that moment when gravity introduces us to the point of no return.
It happened a lot when I was young and convinced that nothing could happen to me that somebody else couldn’t fix. It happens even more now because I’m old and lose my balance more easily — and I still suffer from the effects of things that couldn’t be entirely fixed.
When I see a potentially disastrous summit now, whether it’s a high curb or a tall mountain, I immediately consider my options, of which there is really only one. “Why the hell would anyone want to do that?”
The answer, of course, is because it’s there. Also because of youth, the enjoyment of a challenge, and no experience with free falling. Also, because girls are probably watching.
Every summer, somebody — almost always a guy — gets stuck on a cliff or the side of a mountain and requires assistance in returning to a relatively flat spot (from which he promises to never leave again).
You know why this happens? No, not because it’s a challenge. Youth? That’s not it either. Intoxicants? OK, maybe.
No, the main reason is a matter of physiology. God or evolution, depending on which you choose to blame, neglected to install eyeballs in your butt.
I’m serious. Going up a cliff is easy because you can see what’s happening. But if you get stuck and have to back down, there’s a problem. You can only see where you’ve been, not where you’re going.
That guy who recently free-climbed El Capitan in California? Yeah, pretty amazing. But even more amazing would be watching him free-descend it and live to tell the tale.
Be careful out there, people. If the sheer side of a mountain looks inviting, you’re already higher than you think.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.