Hanging from a cliff. Cool! But don’t tell Mom

Rick MacLean
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He was hanging several stories in the air. No way down. No way back up. And he was in the middle of nowhere, also known as some canyon in the outback wilds of Utah.

And his mother didn’t know about it. Thank goodness. Neither did I.

Handsome Son is that age. Nearly 24, fit, and up for something different. So when The Girlfriend suggested he join her annual canyoning trip – climbing into and wandering around in canyons – with her older brother, he was all in.

They’re experienced.

Got all the gear, know the risks and how to avoid them. Like what to do if you flip upside down while rappelliing down a 10-foot-high waterfall on a rope and icy water is trying to fill your mouth and drown you.

Cool, thought Handsome Son.

This is the internet age. Beautiful Wife is used to being able to reach out and electronically touch her two babies – Beautiful Daughter is 26, but she’s still BW’s little girl. And mine.

News flash. No internet in the outback of Utah, or Colorado, or New Mexico, or Arizona. They all meet in one spot out there in Four Corners land in the American southwest in canyon country. So a week without contact was something new for BW. It was not a welcome experience.

Finally the phone rang.

“Hey Dad,” HS said from the airport in Denver. Hey Dad. More welcome words were never spoken.

“Lots of stories to tell. Not sure if they’re all Mom-rated.”

Too late. BW was staring at me over the mobile phone in her hand.

The plan was simple. Throw a rope down the hundred feet or so of cliff and hear it land. Check. Throw the other end down — I guess the middle is attached to something up top — and hear it land. Check. Then tie onto the harness and over the side you go. Check.

Partway down — problem.

Turns out this was HS’s first time leading a descent. Normally The Girlfriend’s brother did it. And he’s not the sort to make a mistake. HS and The Girlfriend did.

They didn’t hear the second part of the rope hit the bottom. They heard it hit the cliff face.


You need two strands of ropes to descend. So there HS sat, can’t go up, can’t go down, while The Girlfriend, battling back tears, and her brother tried to figure out what to do.

Finally, after 20 minutes of dangling — at those words BW’s face turned as white as the knuckles of her hand gripping the phone — the brother descended using a six-millimetre rope and hooked HS to it.

“Get down now,” the brother said as they neared the bottom, but with an uncomfortable distance still to go.

“I got down, fast,” HS laughed into the phone. I started to laugh. Then I saw BW’s face. End of laughter.

Oh yeah, and later in the day there was the incident when two climbers flipped over in a falls and had water pouring into their mouths, HS said.

I didn’t look at BW.

And that night he had to huddle outside in an aluminum blanket with the brother’s girlfriend, because she couldn’t continue due to hypothermia. The Girlfriend and brother hoofed 16 kilometres in the dark to get rangers to rescue them.

Didn’t need them in the end, but it was a rough night, HS said. They all managed to get out on their own late the next morning. It was pretty cold, since he was only wearing shorts and a singlet, HS laughed.

I started to chuckle.

Then didn’t.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

Organizations: Holland College, Four Corners

Geographic location: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico Arizona Denver Charlottetown

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