In the aftermath of a climbing accident, the entire climbing community becomes affected by the tragedy, whether personally acquainted with those involved or not.
This past weekend, a group of ten climbers set out in the Rocktown area of La Fayette, GA for a weekend of adventure. The group was spelunking in Ellison Cave, which is one of the deepest cave systems in the entire nation. Ill-prepared, the group entered the cave wearing only t-shirts and shorts.
As Grant Lockenbach, 22, and Michael Pirie, 18, rappelled down a ~120 foot drop, Lockenbach dropped a bag and attempted to retrieve it. He became tangled in his rope, trapped beneath a frigid waterfall. Pirie immediately sought to aid his friend, but ultimately wound up in the same position as his comrade.
Their bodies were recovered from the site, and it is believed that they perished from hypothermia.
I have been reading heaps of articles about the incident, and every piece makes remarks about the excellent character of these two victims. They were great members of their community, and had the best of intentions.
Their accident serves as a stark reminder to all climbers and explorers: as thrilling an adventure is, you must be prepared. It is all too easy to get in over your head while climbing, but you must be comfortable with your limits.
The incident reminded me of the time the boys attempted to summit the Grand Teton over summer. As they stood before me, ‘ready’ to traverse snow fields in their duct-taped shoes and flimsy sweaters, I was overcome with anxiety over their lack of preparation. Thankfully, the boys were all fine – but their lack of preparation prevented any of the crew from completing the summit.
Please, please exercise caution when engaging in high-risk activities. Yes, you are an adventurer, and yes, adventures are most often spontaneous and lack planning, but you’ve got to use your noggin sometimes, folks. I can’t bear to imagine losing a member of our closely-knit climbing family.