Cliff Climbing

Climbing a 13-A cliff in my wheelchair in New Mexico using a custom made harness.

silhouette of Gene ascending a cliff face in his wheelchair with the assistance of a guide

Our quest began with a 2 hour road trip from Santa Fe to Socorro, NM. Our destination was Box Canyon, 6.5 miles beyond Socorro. After driving on a dirt path to get to the bottom of the canyon, Jason lifted me out of the jeep and into my wheelchair. He turned me towards our objective. It was more than a rock wall, it was a 13-A. Cliffs are rated by their difficulty to climb, with 1 being the easiest, 14 the most difficult. They are additionally rated A – C. A is not as difficult as C.

Jason explained the procedures to me. He had custom made a harness for my wheelchair. Jason and his crew put a body harness on me as a backup in case the chair harness gave way. I was carried up a narrow trail to the base of 13A.

They secured the ropes, top and bottom. Nothing was left to chance. Every rope, every carabiner, every strap was checked and rechecked. The big moment finally came. All the slack was taken out of the rope. I began my ascent. Every time the ropes were pulled from below, the pulley above would creak and groan under the strain. With each pull on the haul line, I moved straight up and, for the briefest of moments, seemed to be weightless. As the rope lost its’ slack, I regained my equilibrium and prepared for the next haul. It wasn’t long before I reached the peak. The wind whistled through my hair as I enjoyed the spectacular view, from 120 feet above ground. I felt privileged to be sharing an experience known only to other climbers, people who have the same reverence for nature, danger, and the element of uncertainty ever-present in this type of activity.

While dangling from the top, I remembered the words of Helen Keller, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.