JUNE 25: TRAINING, DAY 4 THE GROTTO
The moon rose about into a clear sky. Even though it
was only a partial moon, it was so bright it woke Fitz up. He watched a
shooting star and went back to sleep. The morning sky was bright by . I put the coffee pot on the stove
at and started
shaking tents. A long day was planned and I wanted to get packed and on the
trail as soon as possible. The objectives for the day were to hike out to the
cars, drive to
The broken eggs were used to make French toast a la Justin. While we packed and ate, Fitz as team physician (or doc) made rounds tending to sore muscles, headaches from the altitude, infected throats, diarrhea and blisters. As a psychiatrist he diagnosed that some of the complications were nervous reactions.
switched back and forth down the shoulder of a ridge for two miles and emerged
The reactions of the hikers were mixed as they met the Pelion team coming down on the trail the narrow rock and boulder strewn trail. At first some stared defiantly as they hiked closer, as if to say, "I'll take the middle of the trail...you step aside." As the distance shortened, their awareness of something unusual set in. When they realized that the second and third person, carrying huge packs, were blind, they stepped aside. Some looked shocked and just stared, some said hello, and others were more euphoric and shared a sense of joy in the accomplishment they witnessed. They all just stood and watched each blind climber hike down the trail until he or she disappeared, only to be surprised when they turned to continue up the hill and encountered the next group from Pelion.
What must they have thought when Fred went by? Fred traveled the greater part of the trails unaided. Usually he followed a few steps behind someone else and sensed the terrain by the sounds and echoes of boots on rocks. He has a method of walking which works well on trails. He stands erect and his center of gravity seems low. He moves forward from the hips so he isn't thrown off balance when his foot hits a rock or log. He only moves forward when his leading foot is secure.
Somebody called Fred's gait the "blind man shuffle." Judy said that when she went blind she was taught not to use the "shuffle" because it would identify her as blind. Judy's method of walking was different from Fred's. She walked more like most sighted people leading from the shoulders with her center of gravity of the body above the hips.† This is an unstable posture when walking over rough and uncertain terrain.
A large number of people encountered on the trail seemed embarrassed or frightened. It looked as if they were afraid they might catch something. Others looked confused as if they were supposed to do something, or help, and didn't know how. Some seemed to find a knot of compassion and emotion inside and didn't know what to do with their feelings. Some cried. †
From time to time Judy would ask Rich.
"How much further?"
"Do we have far to go?"
"When can we stop?"
The questions asked by everybody, often reflecting fatigue, were handled by different members in different ways.
"Just a little further."
"We'll be there when we're there."
"I think it's just around the corner."
"I see the lake, it can't be too far."
Rich kept telling Judy, "Four hundred yards." and a little later, "Four hundred yards."
The answer was always, "Four hundred yards."
The question of how the blind deal with a sense of distance in order to budget their remaining energy is an interesting and important one especially in climbing. A sighted climber can look up a slope and judge its steepness and slow down and go into low gear physically. A blind climber has to be in good condition and has to budget their energy output.† Their guide has to be sensitive to their strength and be able to judge the effect of pace on energy requirements.
end the camera crew staged a couple of scenes with the first team down. A local
television station and reporters filmed the climbers coming out of the woods
and sauntering the last quarter mile through the meadow above
were lashed, two deep, on top of Big Blue. With yells of bravado and the aroma
of sweat and sun cream, we headed for
have a restful two days while we practiced rock climbing techniques and did
higher altitude hiking, Chuck took on the task of getting extra gear shipped to
Roberts decided it was best for her to leave for
I had only
met Dianne briefly before the evening in La Concina. During the past four days
her keen sense of observation and insight into the moods and needs of people
became more and more apparent. Her sense of observation had been sharpened by
expedition climbing experiences with Jim on Everest and
Once, as Alec watched her hike down the trail, he signed a sigh and indicated how lovely he thought she was. I signaled back how big her husband was.
By we left Chuck and Dianne and
headed out of town to spend the afternoon rock climbing. The director of the
Kirk had lost his sight when he was six. His father was a high school sports coach and Kirk was raised to be active and independent. He enjoyed out-of-door activities and participated in the Ski-For-Light program administered by Bud Keith. Kirk had just finished his freshman year at Washington State College and was on summer leave. He moved around camp, ran down hills and climbed with the ease of a sighted person.
People driving to
While Kirk was working with the film crew I set up two other ropes on some large boulders for the others to practice the use of Prussik (pronounced proo sick) loops to climb up a rope. The Prussik loop is a ten to twelve foot loop of quarter-inch rope which is tied around the climbing rope with the Prussik knot. The Prussik knot can be moved up a rope when there is no pressure on the knot, but grips the rope when weight is put on the loop and doesn't slide down. It would be useful in the same way as the Jumars in helping a person climb out of a crevasse. Prussik knots had been used for years before the mechanical devices like the Jumar were developed.† It is the same knot that flag pole painters use to get to the top of a flag pole.
To use the Prussik knot the loops are passed inside the climbing rope around the climberís waist, the climber stands in the two of them, one for each foot. In an alternating fashion the climber stands on one loop and takes the weight off the other.† He then slides the one without the weight on it as far up the climbing rope as possible and then shifts the weight to stand on the loop which has just been raised. The shifting of the weight secures the loop and frees the other Prussik knot so it can be raised. The two knots become a sliding ladder which can be used to climb up a cliff or out of a crevasse on a glacier.
Using Prussik knots is simple in principle but requires coordination. Each person took turns standing in the Prussik slings, hanging on the climbing rope, and spinning in a circle as they struggled with the knots. They had to climb up fifteen to twenty feet and then come down. In addition to the two loops that a person stands in, a third Prussik sling is used around the chest to hold the person upright. With three knots on the climbing rope each climber had to find the knot he was going to move, and then search with their hands as to where the knot would be moved. The knot on the loop that a person is standing on is jammed tight and cannot be moved which means that only the two knots that do not have pressure on them can be moved. Sometimes when tired a climber will have pressure on all three knots. They cannot move up or down the rope until they release pressure on a loop and un-jam the knot.
Prussik knots are not high technology but there are some considerations.† We used quarter inch manila rope because it would not stretch. If the prussik loop is made of thin cord which stretches, it will seize and can only be released by cutting it off.
When descending with Prussik knots the process is reversed. The lowest knot is moved down and the weight then taken off the higher knot so it can be moved down.† If on the way down the top knot is moved too far, it would jam on the lower knot, or if the bottom loop was moved too far down and the weight of the body lowered, the top knot would be out of reach.
Fred, Judy, Sheila, Doug, Bud and Justin couldn't see the knots they had tied, and manipulating them was like a complicated and exhausting puzzle. Adjustment to altitude was not complete, and the exertion of fighting the knots, raising and hanging on by one hand and balancing while spinning in the air was very tiring. Sometimes they would get stuck and hang there ten to fifteen minutes while they figured out how to un-jam a knot.
setting up the exercise and demonstrating how to tie and use the knots, and an
occasional comment of encouragement, I let each person suffer through the
problem. They, after all, had to climb every step on
afternoon passed. The ropes were taken down and coiled and we started back over
the pinecone-covered granite slabs toward the cars to drive toward
Paul and Alec carried out their anger to a childish and more dangerous level but nevertheless expressive.† They would lie down or sit in the middle of the highway and jump up pretending a car was coming and then dance around like it was a big joke.
Some of the
problems of being deaf and working with the deaf were becoming apparent. Some
other things were said and I sensed a frustration in communication which must
be dealt with every day by the deaf. In a few short moments the plight of the
deaf became apparent. While the blind are cut off from nature - from seeing the
mountains, the trees, the rivers - the deaf are cut off from people. They are cut
off from the whispering, background noises and discussions which go into making
decisions and many of the processes of leadership and authority acceptance.† A potential erosion was occurring in my
ability to move the team rapidly if needed. I was getting tired, felt
powerless, angered and a little sad because I knew other moments would occur
because of the need to be able to make decisions and change plans rapidly as a
mountain requires. Mountains are not static; they move, creak, hiss, rumble and
give off many signals that we hear, sometimes with an inner ear. After twenty
five years of climbing and guiding I knew that acknowledging and accepting the
decision of the leader could mean the difference between life and death. The recent
Alec and Paul would probably feel like a yo-yo jerked in one direction and then another by some of the decisions that would be made as circumstances changed on the mountain. Every effort would have to be made to make sure that Chuck, Fitz, and Rich could interpret during group meetings. For the time being, I explained the situation to Fitz and asked him to intercede if necessary.† I wasn't sure I would be able to communicate with Alec or Paul, who were starting to act out their frustrations, and I didn't want to drop them from the team.† I did tell them both that if they wanted I would pay for their return flight home if they were not going to cooperate. Wounds were made that would not heal.
After dinner it was decided not to set up the tents. The cumulus clouds which had built up during the afternoon, although threatening, looked as if they would dissipate. For several it was the first time they had slept in the open with stars for a ceiling, and the only sound was from the river twenty feet away. Everybody was tired and full. Kirk later said he was asleep before he hit the ground.