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The Gym-to-Crag Book That Can Save Your Life | with Peter Johnston

The Gym-to-Crag Book That Can Save Your Life | with Peter Johnston

Posted by Aidan Multhauf with Peter Johnston on 19th Jun 2024

Rick finishes, lowers to the ground and says, “Wow, that’s such a cool line, you’re going to love it!” Jean isn’t so sure, but she is on toprope, so it’s no big deal.

She climbs the route, finding the moves around the first bolt pretty difficult and spending quite a bit of time getting past the lip. Then it gets fun. That slab is even more enjoyable than it looks from the ground. When she unclips the draw from the bolt where Rick spent time fidgeting, she pulls on the hanger and it slides out an inch. She pulls again and the whole sleeve comes out of the wall. She knows that’s no good. Throwing the hardware in her chalk bag, Jean continues up the route, struggling through the traverse sequence at the end.

At the top, she sees the anchor is really just one quickdraw. “Hey, Rick, how do I get this one back?”

“You just gotta rappel!” he shouts back up to her.

“Rick, I don’t know how to rappel!

Peter Johnston was inspired to write …but, I Won’t Fall There by scenes much like this playing out at his local crag. Sometimes nothing bad happens, but luck often runs out for those involved and unintentional runouts become ground falls. The scary part: these occurrences aren’t unusual. If you’ve climbed outside for more than a year, you have likely witnessed some sort of accident, or a near miss that went unnoticed! These frightening moments aren’t reserved for the noobs in the climbing community.

While sport climbing at a popular crag in New Mexico, Peter was on a route that had transitioned from less-than-vertical to overhanging terrain. He fell before clipping a high enough bolt to prevent swinging into the slab below, injuring his ankle and hobbling away with the imprint of a bolt scarred on his back. Climbing involves inherent risk, but this injury was easily preventable as the belayer applied a hard catch where a soft catch was needed.

Peter is an insurance actuary, analyzing the probability of accidents—credentials that inform this book, but what makes this a page-turner is his humor which has been calloused by decades of Death Metal. …but, I Won’t Fall There is stacked with pg-13+ images of stick-figure carnage. Silly? Of course. A memorable point? Absolutely.

Actual photo of Peter getting a too-hard catch.

Five Takeaways from Writing …But, I Won’t Fall There

  1. If you feel like what you’re doing IS dangerous (and you aren’t seeking that out specifically) then you are doing something wrong.
  2. If you repeatedly engage in behaviors that expose you to a 1% risk, they will continue to compound and eventually hit 100%.
  3. Sport climbing doesn’t have to be dangerous.
  4. Determine the full consequences of a risk before examining it’s likelihood.
  5. Standardizing knowledge is how we move forward as a sport.

The Characters That Tell the Story

…but, I Won’t Fall There explores fictional characters that act out many of the tropes we see at the crag. The story follows a small climbing community and their escapades at a crag developed by some well-meaning stoners. We won’t give too much away, but we did come across the Falling Project page for the crag and have included it here. The comments should give an idea of who each character is. Take a look and see if you’ve met any of these people while out climbing.