37: Belayed

37: Belayed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Belayed

It comes down to whether you believe in seven miraculous escapes a week or one guardian angel.

~Robert Brault

My sister Lynn, her best friend Rosanne, and I were nearing the end of our one-week summer camp. The day’s outing was to the Bowl and Pitcher rock formations inside Riverside State Park in Washington State. The Bowl is a huge roundish boulder. Next to it sits the Pitcher, a much taller cylindrical formation. The pair guards the winding Spokane River.

Having feasted on a picnic lunch, the 100 or so high school campers anticipated the evening campfire: hot dogs and hamburgers complete with a sing-a-long and s’mores. But now we had free time — a peaceful little interval to nap, read, or explore the trails. Friends gathered to chat at the weathered picnic tables or split off in clusters to hike. Lynn curled up in the shade with a book. Roseanne and I, opting for a hike, headed for the rock formations. The Pitcher towered above us. “Let’s climb to the top,” I suggested. Roseanne was game, so up we went — no ropes, no gear — freestyling in tennis shoes and shorts.

For years, I had, unbeknownst to my family and friends, climbed rock formations along other portions of the river — sites that eventually became training locations for amateur climbers bedecked with harnesses, helmets and sturdy shoes. I would later giggle, watching the saddled students clamber up sheer faces that I had conquered with the wind in my hair and caution as an afterthought.

Roseanne and I pulled ourselves up to perch on the top of the Pitcher. Settled on the jagged edge, we reveled in the grand scene. Knots of hikers reconnoitered the trails like spies. The sparkling river roiled and coiled below. More giant boulders dotted the landscape. The sun shone on us while we planned our next adventure, examining the vista of enticing possibilities.

A group of hikers passed below, like ants in colorful hats. One of them pointed up at us. We waved. They waved back and then darted off. In a matter of minutes our afternoon plans changed.

The ants returned with two camp counselors who cupped their hands around their mouths and yelled at us. “You two get down here right now!” We’d reigned long and well on our peak, so we complied without protest. Roseanne headed down first and I followed, carefully choosing foot and hand holds. About a third of the way down I couldn’t find a place for my right foot to grip. My handhold was a thin ledge about fingertip in width. The left toehold was also slim. As I searched for a supportive niche, my body leaned backward. I was losing my grip!

Roseanne must have noticed that I was in trouble, because I felt her hand supporting me between the shoulder blades. Firmly, yet patiently, she guided me back toward the rock and kept me steady. I didn’t dare upset my balance by so much as turning my head to glance in her direction. I didn’t even dare to speak! Once my toehold was secure I turned to thank Roseanne, but she was not there. I spotted her at least ten feet below me, deeply concentrating on her own descent.

As soon as our feet touched soil, we were scolded. “Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” “You set a poor example!” “We were so frightened for you!” We were summarily confined to within fifty feet of the fire pit for the remainder of the outing.

I told no one about the hand on my back, but I never forgot it.

~Barbara Crick

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