Okay, here’s what I need from you:
Describe an event that you would consider to be the defining moment in your life.
It could be a nasty break up. A botched fishing trip. A leaf fire gone awry.
What I’m looking for is a dramatic experience that towers like a mountain in the landscape of your memory.
I’ve got two defining moments in my life that stand large in my memory. One that concerns infidelity.
The other involves a fatal rock climbing accident.
The Most Dramatic Event of My Life
In July of 1998 I travelled to the Grand Tetons with my girlfriend, my step-father and our climbing partner.
After about 9 days straight of easy to moderate climbing, we decided to climb the Symmetry Spire, a 400 foot rock face east of the Grand Teton.
Symmetry is a good, beginner’s climb, but getting their is a slog. The hike to the base of the climb alone took us 2.5 hours of trail and 1 hour skirting a couloir.
In fact, it was so rigorous, my girlfriend, exhausted from non-stop climbing, bailed before we got to the couloir.
One Thing You Have to Keep in Mind
The rule of thumb in the Tetons is “Finish your climbs by 2:30 P. M.” Afternoon thunder storms always roll in. And you certainly didn’t want to be stuck on the side of the wall when that happened.
However, that’s exactly what happened.
Midway through the climb, about 100 ft below the summit, it started to rain. Me, my step-father and our climbing partner debated finishing the climb but agreed rappelling would be the safest route. So, we did just that. I set the anchors and we started to descend.
I forget when–I think it was the second rappel–I slung the rope around a horn sticking out of the cliff face. I inspected the horn for cracks, didn’t see any, and descended.
I landed on a 10 ft by 10 ft ledge and removed myself from the rope. I yelled “Clear” and crouched with my back to the wall. That’s when the unthinkable happened.
My step father stood at 6 ft 4 inches and weighed 280 pounds. Big guy. Too big for the horn. The moment he weighted the rope, the horn snapped. And he fell, screaming.
He hit the lip of the ledge I was crouched on and dropped out of sight.
He fell 200 feet. And didn’t survive. Absolutely out of my mind, my climbing partner and I spent the next 11 hours methodically climbing to safety.
Something to Chew On
Whenever I look back at this event, I always feel like it occurred to another person. Like it didn’t happen to me. It’s like I’m fortunate to share someone else’s memories.
That ever happen to you?
This may sound strange, but I cherish this experience. Tragic, yes. But one of the reasons I cherish it is because during this trip my step-father–a man who grew up in Wyoming and always dreamed of climbing the Tetons–at one point leaned over and said that I was helping him live out his dreams.
The other reason I cherish this experience is because just months after this tragedy, I proposed to my girlfriend. And she said yes.
We’ve been married for 11 years. And today is our anniversary!
So, have at it. Describe that one unforgettable event that somehow defines your life. And then explain why it defines your life.
You can either do it in the comments section here or on your own blog. If you do it at your blog, just point back to this post.
I can’t wait to read your stories!
One Last Thing
I adore Abraham Piper’s 22 Words because he elegantly gets away with a lot. His blog inspired me to ask this question. I only wish I had the chops to answer it in half the words.
Also, read an incomplete analysis of the climbing accident in the journal Accidents in North American Mountaineering.