I was focused on reaching the summit. I was free-climbing—scaling the cliff face without safety ropes. I’d gone 70 feet so far. I had about 100 feet left to go.
I swiped the sweat from my forehead and prepared for my next move. This section was tricky; the cliff-face was smooth and flat. Not many places to grip, save for a baseball-size handhold just within reach of my right hand. I’d use this to hoist myself up. My fingers closed around it.
The rock crumbled in my hand! I flailed around for something to grab. The dizzying drop spun below me. My left hand tightened on my remaining handhold, my feet awkwardly bracing the wall. My heart pounded in my ears as I tried to get my bearings. I clung desperately to the cliff face. I could feel my left hand cramping up.
I’m a dead man, I thought. My mind flashed to my little brother, Russ, who’d stayed back at base camp. How would our friend Roger break the news to him?
It was June 1991. Russ, Roger and I were on a much-anticipated expedition in the Sierra Nevada. Roger and I had been climbing together for years, but this excursion was Russ’s first.
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