11. Thou Shalt Not Trundle

Cliff Area Warning Sign

Objects In Potential Energy's Mirror May Be More Dangerous Than They Appear

As a climber, I’ve learned one thing more than any other facet of the sport.  Gravity is a BITCH.  After a life of injuries, failures, epics, accidents, near-misses, and near-death experiences, I am here to tell you that gravity is not just dangerous.  It is at its most dangerous when you’re having the most fun.

Now you may think that you’re immune to the dangers of climbing if you’re not crazy enough to climb.  But I’ve got news for you, amigo.  If you think that, then you are horribly, horribly wrong.

The greatest danger isn’t that you’re going to kill yourself.  It’s that you’re going to kill somebody else.  And, in fact, you may have already come close to doing it.

It’s called “trundling”.  It means throwing, pushing, or sliding big rocks so that they fall into the abyss.  The fact is, almost everybody who has been in the mountains has done it, or has seen somebody do it.  Sometimes it’s an accident.  Sometimes it’s just careless.  Sometimes it’s intentional, and done in the name of safety.  But – and here is the very sobering truth – almost every single climber, hiker, or traveler in steep places has done it, or has been in a party where somebody did it.  And worst of all, this.  Far, far too many people have done it for fun.

Yes.  It’s true.  It usually happens with non-climbers, or before people learn to climb, such as when they are teens, or in their early days of climbing.  And – like those empty guns that kill people – people always do it when they are “sure” there is nobody below.

Well – guess what?  The gun is loaded.  Somebody is below.  And somebody is gonna die.

I was reminded of this by the recent, horrible tragedy, where two kids ran a shopping cart off of an upper deck of a parking garage and struck a woman in the head.  She is now in a coma.  It is uncertain if she will survive.


While the media has tried to maximize the sensationalism of this incident by saying that the kids “dropped a shopping cart from the fourth story”, the fact is that they appeared to have simply rolled it off of an upper deck of a parking garage.  I’m fully willing to admit that, in my own days as a juvenile delinquent, I did far more knowingly wrong things than this.  I’m sure that these kids had no intention of harming anybody.  Perhaps they were just reckless.  Perhaps they thought to themselves, for an instant, “Hey – what are the odds?”  I doubt they thought anything but the cart would get hurt.  They probably even thought that the shopping cart wouldn’t be damaged.  If you look at the video, and consider the physics of a good shopping cart, it’s likely that it wouldn’t have done more than bounce, had it just hit the ground.  The trouble is, these kids never stopped to consider that somebody might suddenly appear where they didn’t expect them.

While we are all praying that the victim will manage to survive, I want to take a few minutes of my time, and use this opportunity to try to prevent just one more victim.

No – I know you’re not going to roll a shopping cart off into space.  But there is a huge likelihood that, if you go to the mountains, you – or someone with you – will do the same thing, more or less, with a rock.  Trust me – I’ve heard my share of “trundlers” crashing down rocks in my twenty-some years of climbing.  People do it.  A LOT.

One of the first things that climbers learn is to yell “ROCK” whenever ANY object drops.  If you drop a carabiner accidentally, you don’t waste your breath and precious seconds yelling “CARABINER!”.  You yell “ROCK!”.  Most climbers are so attuned to this warning, that they can be under cover by the time the yeller has merely gotten past the “R”.

Take a look at this video of controlled trundling – where a man-killer rock is cut loose on purpose by climbers, to prevent a future accident.  Listen for the radio call to the ground.  This is how it’s done safely.

That video was taken from this blog post in Outside magazine online.

Anyway, this leads me to my grand finale.  The notorious case of Pete Absolon.  Here is one of the greatest tragedies of climbing.  A group of good hikers out having a good time.  Some good climbers out doing a good climb.  Will the hikers innocently roll boulders down the mountain?  Will something bad happen?

Just read it – HERE.

Yes, I know that I have just spoiled somebody’s moment of fun, sometime in the future, rolling a few rocks off a cliff, and having a good laugh as they roll, tumble and crash to the ground.

But I also like to think that I may have just saved somebody from death, and somebody else from a lifetime of regret.

Commandment 11.  Thou shalt not trundle.

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