I looked down all 500 feet to the rocky ground below, knowing that the next thing for me was death. We walked over the top of the rocks to start the climb, and I remember the jutting rocks were situated very much like jaws, and my mind was polluted with thoughts of being impaled on the teeth.
My muscles screamed in agony, begging me to let go from the hold that only three fingers had managed to hold onto. The last thing I wanted to do was appease them, but holding on was growing increasingly less possible.
“Hold on!” my brother Jonathan yelled down.
I looked up and saw him descending toward me, moving as fast as he could but making sure to maneuver with care. Pebbles and white powder sprinkled down on top of my head as he took a brief break to chalk up. He found his footing and continued descending.
“I’m trying, man,” I said as loud as I dared.
Every breath was like adding weight to my shoulders, and each one made my muscles hurt a little bit more. I looked down again and tried not to breathe. Jonathan made it to a few feet away.
My fingers gave out, and I dropped. My stomach leaped up into my throat, and I stopped breathing for a second until the rope went taught. The anchor held, but I could feel it lowering from my weight.
“Jeremie!” my brother yelled.
He doubled his efforts. I wanted to respond, but words fled my tongue. My breathing elevated beyond the point of control. My heart was loud enough to hear in my head. To make matters worse, I was slowly spinning.
The portion of the cliff we had been trying to climb held the moniker of Man Maker and my brother had said it was called this because of how scary it was. It had plenty of holds, so it wasn’t as dangerous as some roofs according to my brother, but it was still relatively large, so it was on the expert level of climbs in my opinion. My brother had convinced me I had to go that route or I would always be his baby brother. Successfully getting over the Man Maker would allow me to remove the ‘baby’ from in front of my title.
As I spun, I experienced heightened moments of terror when I was facing the open air. My heart beat so fast I was sure it would explode, and when I made the mistake of looking down while hanging, I hoped it exploded before I plummeted all 500 feet to the jaws below.
“I gotcha, baby bro,” Jonathan said, looping his rope around a pole-like rock and belaying down so that he was dangling in the air beside me. “Your anchor looks a little loose, but I think it should hold.”
“Get me down, now!” I said, feeling a wave of comfort from his presence, followed by a fear that he would take his time and I would drop.
“Calm down, calm down,” he said, clipping his carabiner onto a clip near my hip. “See, I got you. I’m not supposed to do that, but I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Please stop making jokes. I don’t find them funny right now,” I said, my heart still beating its way higher up in my head.
“Whatever you say.”
He climbed up his rope until he was back in contact with the rock. Then he started to campus his way up until he was high enough to put his feet back on the rock. As he climbed, I could see his back muscles and biceps flexing from the extra weight. I’d always admired him for his strength, but now I questioned if he would be strong enough to get me back up. I went up a few inches, but we stopped when my anchor stayed put.
“Okay, I need you to go leave that rope behind,” he said, using his free forearm to wipe the sweat beading against his forehead.”
“What? How? Don’t I need that?”
“Yes, but it’s either leave that or stay put. If we can make it to the top, we can walk down the mountain on our own two feet. I hate to bail on a climb, but this cliff is easy like that.”
“Easy! This cliff is not easy!”
“I forget you’re a bumbly. It’s easy for most people.”
“I am not a bumbly. I just slipped,” I said, almost yelling.
“Okay, then man up and cut the rope. We’ll knot your remaining rope to mine until we get to the top and I’ll keep this whole thing our little secret.”
I wanted to punch him in the face, but fearing he might let go and we both fall, I restrained myself. He called out directions on how to tape the rope before how to cut it free with my knife. When I was done it hang limply against the wall, and I felt a wave of panic, wondering if I’d left enough to keep climbing.
But my brother tied us together with plenty of rope to spare, removing the carabiner. After he brought me high enough to grab the rock on my own, the process of ascending was much smoother. Over the roof now, the holds were numerous, and I almost sighed in relief when I saw the top.
Dangling in the air for that long given my muscles a nice break, and I was faster than my brother. It also worked in my favor that he was visibly fatigued from having to carry us both over the Man Maker. He warned me not to go too much higher than him since we were still tied together, and I responded with bad jokes about him being the real bumbly.
When we finally reached the summit, I felt like the experience had aged me 20 years. I reached down and held out a hand for my brother, but he slapped it away and climbed up onto the flat pinnacle beside me.
I saw the way down and started heading that way, wanting nothing more than to be back on the low ground, but he turned back to the cliff. He sat on the ledge and let his feet hang over the edge.
“Come on, bro, let’s go,” I said, standing with my hands on my hips.
“You can’t just climb a cliff and not admire the beauty. What’s wrong with you, man?” he said, never looking away from the sight before him.
I joined him at the ledge but opted to stand with at least six inches between my toes and the ledge. The wind was blowing, and harder than I was comfortable with, but when I calmed down and looked I couldn’t help but smile.
“Alright,” Jonathan said after a few minutes of silence. “Let’s go tell everyone how I saved your life for the third time.”
“Third? You’ve never saved my life at all.”
“When you were five a rabid dog attacked but I fended it off,” he started, holding up a finger on a hand.
“I was five. And that dog could have been friendly. You think all dogs are mean,” I argued.
He put up a second finger, and I kept arguing, but as we descended the mountain with both feet on the ground, I felt closer to my brother than I’d ever felt before.