Rescuing Riley, Saving Myself

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Authors: Zachary Anderegg
everything.”
    “I know I don’t have to say this,” she said, “but be careful. Come home safe.”
    We both knew there was no talking me out of it now.
    “I’ll call you in the morning with the details and the drop-dead time,” I told her. “Once I get out of town, there’s no cell coverage.”
    “Okay. Love you.”
    “Love you. Sleep well.”
    “You, too. Do your best.”
    She meant do my best to get some sleep, because she knows how I obsess over the details when I’m planning something.
    The parking lot at the Motel 6 was already filling up with semi-tractor-trailers, but the vacancy sign was still lit. I checked in and parked as close to the room as I could, hauling in all of my climbing equipment. The room was dark and stuffy, so I turned on all the lights and cranked the air conditioner to maximum. The fan was strong enough to billow out the curtains. I used the extra bed to lay out my gear.
    You can’t make any mistakes , I told myself. I recalled learning a certain kind of logical focus as a Marine. Once, when our platoon came under “friendly fire” during a training exercise where live rounds were accidentally fired at us, I had the presence of mind to stand up and give the cease-fire sign, my arms crossed over my head, even though the lieutenant in charge told me to get down. If I’d listened to him, it might have gotten someone killed.
    I found myself recalling acronyms I’d been taught as a Marine as a way to make sure nothing got overlooked. SAFESOC stood for Security, Avenues of Approach, Fields of Fire, Entrenchments, Supplementary and Alternate Positions, Obstacles and Camouflage. SMEAC stood for Situation, Mission, Execution, Admin and Logistics, Command/Signal. BAMCIS meant Begin Planning, Arrange Reconnaissance, Make Reconnaissance, Complete Planning, Issue Order, Supervise.
    I worked through the process in the order of events sequentially. First, I would need to make sure my anchor was secure. I’d proven I could use my ATV as an anchor, and the dog and crate would not add substantially to the load on the line.
    I was more concerned about abrasion. A tensioned line is easier to cut through than an unloaded one. As the rope passed over the edge of the canyon, it would take a near ninety-degree downward turn, making it the most likely spot for failure. I would also be on the rope longer than I was the first time I’d dropped in, and working my way back up the rope was not going to be quick or easy. The additional time meant the rope would have that much longer to abrade at the fail point. Fortunately, I’d brought an edge guard with me, an eighteen-inch-long piece of heavy fire hose that could be folded over the rope lengthwise and secured to itself with Velcro. If I could get it to stay in place at the edge of the cliff, I thought, I should be fine.
    I continued going down my list. I checked my harness for wear. I clipped onto it more carabiners than I’d probably need, but I’d be bringing in and out extra gear and wanted to overcompensate. I checked my descender. I added my heavy leather gloves, because the extra weight was going to generate extra heat, and given the length of the drop, I wanted as much protection from the heat as possible. I’ve seen pictures of climbers who ripped the skin off their hands because their gloves weren’t equal to the task.
    I added my ascending kit to the pile—the most critical piece of equipment I had. An ascender is an aluminum or steel device that locks onto the rope, with a cam inside that allows the rope to pass in one direction as you move up the rope, but prevents the rope from moving in the opposite direction. When climbing a free-hanging rope, you use two, one to hold your place while you move the other up the rope. Each ascender is attached to your harness, and to a sling your foot goes in, and then you step your way up. To someone who’s never done it, it looks like you’re doing most of your climbing with your legs, but it

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