Rule Number One

Posted on: July 1, 2005


It's a late summer afternoon in the Gunks. We're all sitting around after a hot day of climbing, drinking beer at the Mountain Deli, listening to "Todd" (names changed to protect reputations), a local guide and raconteur extraordinaire. Here's the verbatim.

"Yo, I was kicking Turtles last week—two Possibles and one for sure Bag 'N Tag—when I hear some Sports Action next door. Apparently there was a Bunky up on something he had no business on and he's losing his shit. He's wailing and moaning. Then there's this 'Ahhhh!' along with that unmistakable sound of Cowbells in freefall, and then crash, and all hell breaks loose with his girlfriend screaming and people running and shit falling. Dude! I swear it sounded like a Rule #1 for sure!

"I check the Turtles, especially Bag 'N Tag, but he's up on a dragline belayed by the Alpha Possible. They're scared green but ok (except for b 'n t who's oblivious), so I tell them to hold positions while I run over to the Sports Action, fully expecting Tyco and Dirtnapus Majorus.

"Turns out Bunky's ga was working overtime. His rope snagged behind a flake, catching him fifteen feet off the deck, and none of the shit he'd flossed off had hit him or anyone else. A frigging water-into-wine miracle! It could've been a Rule #1 and #2 violation!"

Ok readers, you probably get most of Todd's drift but here's a glossary:

Turtles: guided clients (noted for glacial pace and ill-fitting helmets [aka "shells"]).

Kicking Turtles: act of guiding.

Possible: Turtle who one day may actually turn into a climber.

Bag 'N Tag: a reference to the movie Full Metal Jacket—candidate for a Darwin Award who should never tie into a climbing rope under any circumstances due to likelihood of winding up in a body bag.

Bunky: short for Bunky Bumblefuck. Person who may have climbed for twenty years, but only has one year's experience twenty times.

Sports Action: a fall, usually spectacular, usually by a Bunky.

Cowbells: large hexes noted for unmistakable musical clinking. Used in the Gunks exclusively by Bunkys.

Dragline: toprope.

Tyco (n.): moon's largest crater, created by huge impact. Tycoing (v.): act of creating a Tyco.

Dirtnapus Majorus: long "dirt nap"—the Big Sleep, often closely following a Tyco.

ga: Guardian Angel.

Meat Wagon: ambulance.

Stokes: stretcher for carrying a Bunky to the Meat Wagon after major Sports Action and Tyco.

And last but not least:

Rule #1: Don't fuck up and die—the rest are details.

Rule #2: If you do violate Rule #1, don't take anyone else with you.

Two things I've noticed about Todd: first, his run-on sentences seem propelled from a canister of compressed air somewhere inside his skinny frame, connected to his vocal chords and regulated only by the speed he can get the words out. And second: his stories always have a kernel of seriousness. Usually, they involve his favorite subject: Rule #1. I take another sip of beer as he continues.

"So there's the dude—hanging fifteen feet up and twenty feet out under a huge overhang with no way to reach anything, rope jammed tighter than a crab's ass behind that miraculous flake. It's a real head-scratcher how we're going to get him down.

"I'm heading back to round up my Turtles and organize the rescue when I hear Bunky's girlfriend screaming, 'No, don't! Wait for them, pleeease!,' and then blap!, followed by more screaming from Mrs. B. We run over and... what the fuck? There's Bunky B. lying semiconscious on the ground, his empty harness still swinging in the breeze.

"But what happened? His girlfriend explains he was getting uncomfortable hanging in his harness and didn't want to wait for the rescue, so he unbuckles his harness, somehow shimmies out of it, hangs by his hands and lightly drops fifteen feet onto the jagged, uneven talus for a perfect landing.

"R-o-n-g, wrong!

"Turns out he's not seriously manked; just minor broken stuff. I get the Turtles down and organize them to help carry the Stokes to the Meat Wagon. It's a grim procession even though Bunky isn't seriously hurt.

"He's thanking us profusely for the rescue, and he says (so help me!) 'I'm so sorry to put you guys through this. I didn't think it would be this bad. My last fall was almost forty feet... and I only got scratches!'"

"I'm thinking to myself this guy's missed his Darwin Award, but just barely, and it occurs to me it's actually a really good firsthand lesson for my Turtles on Rule #1. My usual guiding shtick, after they've learned the rudiments of tying in and belaying, etc., and about the time I see that glazed look set, is, 'You're getting a lot of information in a short amount of time so don't try to remember it all. There's only one thing you absolutely need to remember."

(We hold our collective breath as Todd pauses dramatically.)

"Don't fuck up and die!"

By now the sun has dropped behind the Nears and our beer is pretty much gone. We're all still laughing as Todd winds down... but we also get the point. Rule #1 is the only one that matters. z

—Peter Darmi, New Paltz, New York

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