Beware of Mother Superior!
by G McCay
Ken belayed me from the popular chockstone belay as I, wearing a pair of loose-fit Levi's and a swami made from 4" tubular webbing, stacked and Leavit-tated thru the bottom section without missing a beat. Eventually, however, I came to the tight, final knee placement above. Here my pace slowed while I delicately slotted my right knee into the shallow, cup-shaped slot. I kipped my upper torso up, seated my next fist stack above and weighted my jammed lower extremity. Using desperate technique I gained a higher hand placement and attempted to remove my well-seated knee. Knowing how to remove stuck stopper placements (by backing them out the same way they were placed) I soon became aware that it was going to take a little longer to remove it than I hoped. I remained calm at first but after using every trick in the book and pumping out in the process I realized that it wasn't coming out. I asked Ken to give me tension and informed him of my dilemma.
My body weight was now firm on the rope around my torso, for I didn't have any leg loops. I grasped hold of the rope above to gain leverage and to provide relief from my constricted diaphragm. Nothing progressed quickly, however, so I asked my belayer to tie me off and assist. After applying two prussiks to the rope and securing his end, Ken chimneyed across until he was under me. He put his shoulder under my buttocks as a seat while I continued to work on my knee. But this didn't last long, for Ken became tired fairly quickly.
I needed leg loops and Ken knew it as well. He scrambled back to his equipment and put together a hasty pair of legs loops out of 1" webbing. But when we tried to apply them, we quickly realized that one of the leg loops wasn't going to pass over the stuck knee. Ken would have to form the leg loops around my legs while chimneying underneath me.
Ken and I heard voices coming up the road. We both froze, turned our heads and watched as five guys appeared from around the edge of the boulder. They happened to be U.S. Marines walking up Mt. Woodson's road for a good workout that day. We quickly recruited them to help out with our situation.
Being connected at the hip, as most Marines are and usually having the Sergeant of the platoon in charge, Sarge promptly asked what he could do to help. I told him that I needed relief from my make-shift swami belt and that I desperately needed leg loops. Working together as a team they took turns having me sit on their shoulders while one performed the delicate operation and eventually managed to tie loops around my legs! But, after all that time and trouble they spent, the loops weren't quite as effective as I needed them to be and it provided little relief. One Marine suggested that he cut my Levi's off in hopes of creating enough room to be able to free my knee. It sounded like a great idea and I was anxious to have it done. I started to worry though as the Marine pulled out his K-Bar and proceeded to slice my pants off from the ankles up! He had to leave the section around my knee for it was tightly wedged between my joint and the rock. He even hung his entire body weight on the matierial from below but couldn't manage to free the last piece.
I was spent at this point and everyone else was sensing the acuity of the situation as well. The Marines started to lose their continuity, the volume of their vioces started to rise and nothing was being accomplished. I seemed to be the only one able to think straight so I spoke out loudly and told Sarge that he needed to send one of his guys down the mountain to the Forestry Department station at the entrance to the mountain and get help. Sarge quickly assigned the task and one of his grunts started the run down the road.
Just as he gave the command Ken's girlfriend, who was sitting on the rock behind watching this whole scene unfold, pulled a tube of sunscreen out of her purse and said, "Why don't you try some of this?" My whole body was starting to cramp, not to mention the excruciating pain that was eminating from my now swollen knee, and any new suggestion gave a glimpse of hope to an already desperate situation. A motivated Marine grabbed the tube of hope and shimmied back across the chimney to squeeze the sunscreen in every open place he could see around my knee. After putting out as much effort I could stand my knee started to move within the confines of the rock! Within moments my knee started to slide up and out of the slot. As it popped free from the rock's grasp my body swung away from the overhanging crack and I slumped forward onto the rope. A rush of pain and relief raced thru my body. A reverberating hoot and "OORAH!" came from the tired Marines as Ken celebrated with them. Ken quickly put me back on belay and lowered me to the dark cave below. He and the Marines assisted me back up to the road to a much-needed rest atop the rock.
But what had gone wrong? My pants had ridden up my leg, bunching at the knee and causing it to wedge tightly in the crack. What I learned from that day on Mt. Woodson was, one, to always wear a harness, at least on Mother Superior and, two, remember to tape the cuff of my Levi's down to prevent them from riding up my leg. I had known this prior but I had no tape to do so and wasn't patient enough to simply come back another day. Had I done this, however, I wouldn't have experienced this situation up on the mountain. I guess I was lucky, for I only suffered some scrapes, a sore knee and a little embarrassment.