The Fall

Allison recollects a near-death fall that miraculously leaves her almost without a scratch.
Allison Moon Allison Moon
September 01, 2015
by Allison Moon

Thursday, July 12, 2012. 

It could have been the last day of my life. In fact, I’m still a little surprised it wasn’t. There are certain events that occur in one’s life, to which it’s hard not to attribute supernatural meaning. It being the day before Friday the 13th, I’ve thought perhaps that Thursday was contaminated by the misfortune of its notorious neighbor. I’ve also caught myself half-believing in guardian angels, and, while contemplating other close calls, have wondered whether the Universe is out to kill me, and if so, why it hasn’t succeeded. 

The day began like any other Thursday. I got up, put in a full day at work, then drove to Exit 32 with my boyfriend, Patrick, to meet our friends for some after-work rock climbing. Patrick and I got a late start, and by the time we arrived at the wall, our friends had already been at it for several hours. Pat and I found an easy warm-up route and began climbing as our friends migrated to another nearby wall in search of new terrain.

Racing the sunset

To provide some context, Exit 32 is a popular weekday climbing destination located off of I-90 about 45 minutes outside of Seattle. It is situated on the north side of the highway beneath Mt. Si, on which you will find one of the most popular and most challenging day hikes in the Washington Cascades. The approach is about a two-mile hike along the Little Si trail (Mt. Si’s runt sibling) and at about two miles you turn left off the trail and hike up a steep brushy hill to the base of the main wall. Then, to reach the second wall, you hike further up the hill with the main wall to your left, following a steep, narrow trail with precipitous drop-offs to the right.

After warming up on a 5.9 at the main wall, we joined our friends at the upper wall and climbed until dark. That was not planned. In fact, there was a distinct lack of planning, or timing at least, on our expedition that day. As dusk fell I found myself “Batmanning” up a 5.10a trying to hurry to the top to clean the anchor before it was completely dark. I topped out, cleaned the anchor, and rapped down without incident. Back at the base of the wall, I packed up my gear and prepared to hike out. While packing, I realized I had left my headlamp at the base of the main wall about 100 yards away. A friend handed me another headlamp, but there was something wrong with the strap. I sensed that my friends were anxious to get moving, so rather than trying to fix or adjust the strap in the dark, I decided to just carry the lamp in my hand, and I began picking my way slowly down the steep narrow trail back to the main wall.

I don’t remember much about what happened next. I remember that my friend Alex was behind me, and I remember scrambling down some rocks on a particularly steep part of the trail. With the headlamp in my hand I was not able to see well as I used both hands to climb down. I remember my feet hitting dirt. Then suddenly, and inexplicably, I was falling through space. My first reaction was disbelief. This couldn’t be, because I didn’t know how it had happened. And yet, there I was, falling. The hillside brush swept past me, persistently breaking its promise to catch me or at least slow me down. 

I wasn’t exactly free falling. There were bumps along the way, and at one point, I thought I had stopped — but after a split second of momentary relief, the falling sensation resumed. I thought perhaps a tree would catch me in its branches and rescue me from the hard ground below. When that didn’t happen, I decided, with surprising resignation, that I was going to die, or be paralyzed at best. Mostly, I wondered when it was going to stop. 

Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, I hit the ground. I had no idea what condition I was in, physically, except that I knew wasn’t dead… I wasn’t dead! So I began calling out for help. As I lay there yelling to my friends, I looked up at the deep blue sky above me and the narrow black tree trunks reaching upward. Although my voice sounded panicked to my own ears, I began to feel calm as I realized that, not only was I alive, but that I wasn’t even in much pain. 

Disbelief and luck 

When I was falling, I knew with simultaneous disbelief and certainty that I would die. Now, that resignation I had felt toward my fate was gradually replaced by a very deep sense of peace, as I lay there in the night looking up at the dark trees and listening to my friends crash through the brush, running to my rescue. By the time they arrived, I knew I was fine — more or less. One friend, Tristan, ordered me not to move as he slid his hands under my back and felt every vertebra of my spine. Another friend, a physician’s assistant, observed Tristan, complimented his proficiency, then repeated everything he had done, either for good measure or just for fun, I’m not sure which. By then it was evident that I had survived the fall with no major injuries, and the group’s aura shifted from panic to giddy relief.

…Except Patrick. I watched him as my friends poked and prodded, checking for broken bones and internal bleeding. He stood back a little from the group looking down at me with an expression I couldn’t decipher. I smiled up at him, and when I was finally given permission to move, I slowly stood, faced him, and threw my arms around him. We held each other for a long time and I felt the heartbreak that was so strongly anticipated it arrived despite no longer being warranted.

We all hiked out in a chatty daze each taking turns estimating the distance I fell and sharing our amazement that I was walking away unscathed. About a week later, Alex sent me a message saying that he and another friend had returned to the place where I (apparently) stepped off the trail, and measured the distance I had fallen. He said it was 43 feet total with ledges spaced 5-10 feet apart. The last drop was 23 feet, and I had miraculously landed on flat ground between several large rocks.

This experience did not radically impact my life or change my world-view. At least, not immediately. My musings about Friday the 13th and guardian angels subsided as my mind came to terms with the fact that I had cheated death, and the black and purple bruise on my tail bone turned green, then yellow, then faded away. But there was something that stayed with me, though initially I couldn’t identify it. Now, with the benefit of two years’ hindsight, I know that what I took from this experience was recognizing the deep feeling of peace that follows when you relinquish control of your fate. Although it took a near-death experience to first see it, this experience has become a tool that I can apply in my life. 

An open path

Currently, I am at a crossroads. While living in Seattle I practiced law — work I felt compelled to do by social pressure (after all, that’s what a law degree is for isn’t it?). This career path and piles of student debt left me with little satisfaction. Then, in October, I left Seattle to join Patrick in Salt Lake City where he is now working toward a Ph.D., — and in doing so, I created an opportunity to reinvent myself, my career, and my future. 

The same fears that pushed me into law practice to begin with still exist. I still don’t know how I will pay off my loans, or raise a family, or even pay my bills if I don’t continue practicing law. But the fall, and what I learned from it, has given me the courage to stop trying to control my destiny, and to simply pursue the things I love – to step off of the trail and into the unknown.

Allison Moon is a native Northwesterner whose love of the outdoors began at an early age on backpacking trips in the Cascades with her dad. In 2008, she discovered rock climbing at a Seattle climbing gym and quickly started single-pitch sport climbing outdoors. Thanks to The Mountaineers, Allison has since expanded her climbing experience to the realms of multi-pitch, trad, and alpine climbing. Last fall, Allison relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah to follow her love (a wily rascal named Patrick) and has been busy seeking new backcountry adventures in the Wasatch Mountains and the red rock deserts of Utah. Allison is also an outdoor writer and journalist, and her work has been published on the Rock and Ice website.

This article originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our bi-monthly publication, click here.

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