I was hooking my way up a picked-out and crowded frozen waterfall at Wild Basin on Sunday when the climber next to me yelled:
“Ice ice ice ICE!”
You yell “ice!” a lot when you’re ice climbing. It’s usually a fairly casual warning for the folks around you: I am swinging an ice axe into this frozen cascade and knocking down everything from fine shavings to dinner plates. For your own safety, please take notice and avoid the dinner plates. Thank you.
But when this guy yelled “ice!” it had urgency. It was not the casual yell for quarter-to-golf-ball-sized ice chunks easily deflected by a climbing helmet. This “ice!” had danger behind it.
I looked over to see dinner platter ice coming down from him. It was glancing away from me and my husband, who was belaying me below, and away from the climber’s own belayer. But the dinner platter ice (think of what your grandma serves the Thanksgiving turkey on) was heading for a young woman further west along the bottom of the cliff.
She glanced up and dodged one big chunk. Her head was still ducked when another dinner platter crashed into the side of her helmet.
She stumbled backward and crumpled to the ground.
The other climber and I were stunned. We hung motionless from our ice tools, crampons clinging to the ice in silence, waiting. Everyone on the ground (except our belayers) ran to the girl.
The guy who had knocked the ice down was still a bit above me, so I climbed up next to him to avoid being the next victim, just in case, and waited. I looked at my husband. Is she okay? I mouthed. He shrugged uncertainty. The other climber didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to — I knew we were both wondering whether he’d just caused massive head trauma with the flick of an ice axe.
One of the women on the ground came into sight and gave us a thumbs up and a big smile.
“Can you move her to the side?” the climber yelled down. (Just what we needed was another dinner platter of ice coming down on her again, or on someone else.)
By the time I came back down, the poor girl and her climbing partner were perfectly cheerful. Her friend even took a picture of her holding the offending chunk of ice next to her head as she wore a huge death-cheating smile.
“You know,” said the guy who’d knocked the ice down, “It was much bigger than that, but it broke on your helmet.”
And she kept climbing.