Meet Chris, a firefighter from Tennessee with a story about brotherhood, danger, instinct, and keeping calm in the face of disaster.
My brother and I are experienced rock climbers. We found one of our favorite spots in the Dixie Cragger’s Atlas, a face in the Chattanooga valley. It had a breathtaking sight at the top of the bluff, overlooking the entire valley. We went in the early fall, as the leaves were just starting to change colors.
A fun day spent climbing and rappelling turned into a rescue mission in East Tennesee. After admiring the view for a while from the top, we decided to head down for the day. There was a 90-degree jut out from where we started, and I hooked on to an anchor and began my descent. My brother hooked on to a separate anchor and started down too, about five feet away from me, around the corner and out of my line of sight.
I reached the ground and looked up at my brother coming down. He was about 200 feet up.
Suddenly, he was in freefall. Something had fallen loose.
I saw him scramble to stop the fall but the anchor had come out at the top.
He was falling and I felt like time had stopped. A mixture of fear and disbelief paralyzed me as I watched my brother plummet 30 feet.
But then he stopped. The rope had caught on an outcropped jut of rock, 150 feet above the earth. I snapped out of my trance and saw my brother dangling precariously. He was petrified. He didn’t move a muscle.
My training kicked in. I’m a firefighter for Bradley County Fire and Rescue. I’m trained in first response, confined space rescue, and … high angle rope rescue.
I asked him if he was injured. He said he was shaken up but ok for the moment, so I told him to stay calm, and I started back up to the face. I had to rig a new top rope before getting to him. The ascent took me nearly a half hour.
I didn’t know this at the time, but the rope holding my brother from a 150-foot drop was starting to fail. Without a secure anchor and nothing but a jagged rock holding it in place, the fibers had begun to fray and tear.
I finally managed to rig up the rope. I checked the anchor one final time and descended down to where he hung.
He clipped on.
We made it to the ground together.
We were pumping adrenaline and shaking. We hugged it out as brothers do, and had a moment I’ll never forget. He showed me the rope that had arrested his fall. It was frayed and weakened.
We decided to hike back to the car the easy way.
Since that day, we’ve climbed a few other faces in Chattanooga together. Leda, the Tennesee Wall, and Foster Falls, to name a few. But for the most part, our climbing has slowed down, mine especially since getting married and having a baby.
That climb was a day I’ll never forget.
Always check your anchors.