The Gulch was Hungry

by In All Our Years

While clearing a deep gulch in Haiku, my Zubat Arborist saw fell out of my sheath and into the abyss. Most of the work was chainsaw work, so I continued without it. At the end of the day I decided to go retrieve it. I had a good idea where it fell and descended to the stump of the tree where I had used it last. The tree grew right on the edge of a nearly vertical drop off. As I was in position to rappel lower, loose soil gave way under my feet, my hand grabbed my life line and slipped into my Petzl Zigzag friction device. I had just untied my stopper knot to descend down.

Within a split second I was in a free fall, upside down, head first with my legs and feet over my head, my body in the shape of  an upside down L. As I fell and as a felled trunk came into view, my leg close behind, I recall thinking, “This is not good.” My leg hit the log and thankfully just above my knee. A direct knee impact would have been a very different story.

In the split second of impact, my body somehow slid past and under the log. I thought my leg was going to bend backward, but it somehow slipped by the log, the cliff still at my back as I kept falling upside down.

I had some time to think after passing the log and wondered when I would stop and what I would hit. Somehow, I landed square on my back, legs in the air, on a small ledge of rock and eroded lava soil, twenty feet or so below my friend, the log. I stood up almost immediately. Below the ledge was another drop off possibly one hundred or so feet further. I could not see the bottom.

I called up to Fox, a fellow Arborist, and told him I was okay. We had just been speaking before my fall. I was a little shaken and my leg hurt a bit, but was still functional. I surveyed the area for my saw and noticed my sunglasses just a bit lower on the ledge. They had fallen away from my face. I retrieved them and took off my CamelBak to put them in an upper pocket and noticed the lower pocket was open and my wallet was gone too. It could have come open during the fall or I forgot to close it. The wallet could be anywhere actually.

I looked a bit further for my lost articles and then determined that I should climb up sooner than later. It was late afternoon and the sun was already low and behind the top of the gulch. My CamelBak was also low on water and I would need this to climb back up.

Still connected to my life line, my Zigzag intact, I decided to ascend back up the vertical cliff to the place where I fell. I stopped a moment, breathed and looked back down the gulch where I had fallen. I estimated the fall to be about 40 feet and the angle of the cliff about 80-85˚. I then continued my ascent and made it to the top, met up with Fox, put my gear away and left for home.

My knee became really swollen, but there was no sharp pain. I suspect a blunt trauma to the left side and just above the knee caused the swelling. The knee also hyper-extended back a bit more than it should have, also contributing to the symptoms. I’m very glad that I did not break my leg. A very close call. My back is scratched and my lower lumbar sore. I must have landed hard but do not know exactly. It was like someone caught me or I fell on a pillow or my Zigzag caught at the last minute. I had a helmet on and it was scratched. My head could have taken a blow, but the helmet works so well and distributes any impact so I don’t know for sure.

Some lessons learned here. After eight hours of tree work, just pack up your toys and head home. Be sure to use the equipment correctly. Can you say “stopper knot”? Also, after a bit of research the Zigzag should be used with double rope technique. I was using it in a single rope technique situation and while possible, Petzl does not recommend this. I know why now.

Fox and I had just cleared a number of trees from the side of the gulch. There were a couple mishaps during the day. The chain on my saw came off multiple times. Fox had his chainsaw clog multiple times and had to descend to within inches of his life line to retrieve an air filter which had fallen off his saw. Perhaps the trees called upon their friend gravity to help out as we cut them down, or at least help the trees express their dissatisfaction with our activities. As Fox mentioned early to me in the day, he felt the Gulch was Hungry.  It certainly was. Nature does have a way of surviving and fortunately, for that day, so did we.