Near Death Experience: The Fall
He fills another bottle and the cooking pot to the brim with water for his father, David, and sets out a week’s supply of energy bars. Then he takes a GPS reading of the campsite.
He turns to his dad, who lies on a bloodstained bedroll, his forehead marked with a purple gash, his jaw clenched, his leg bandaged. “I’d better get moving,” Charlie tells him.
“Good luck, kiddo,” David says quietly. “Just take it slow and steady.”
Outside the tent, Charlie pauses and murmurs a prayer. “I’m not coming back without a helicopter,” he calls over his shoulder as he sets off.
At 52, David Finlayson had explored many wild spaces, bagging major summits in Alaska, Europe and South America. A respected defence attorney, he had split up with Charlie’s mom shortly after their son was born. The boy lived with his mother in Idaho, but spent most summers with his father. Although Charlie was as calm and contemplative as his dad was voluble and restless—David called him “the Zen master”—both were passionate about nature. When Charlie reached Grade 7, David introduced him to rock climbing.
By the time they set out for the Bighorn Crags in August 2015, Charlie was ready to take on complex climbs. They crammed their packs with supplies to last two weeks. After driving six hours from Boise, Idaho, they hiked for two days to reach Ship Island Lake, a jewel in the shadow of a gallery of pinnacles. Their first week, they did two long climbs.
Their third ascent began on a Monday morning. Around noon, David was inching his way across a granite spire 250 metres above the valley floor, searching for a line of fissures that would lead them to the top. Charlie stood on a ledge 10 metres to the right, lashed to a tree for safety as he fed rope to his dad. Reaching up, David dislodged a small stone. In the next moment, he heard a sharp snap from above as something larger broke loose. He barely had time to scream before everything went black.
When Charlie saw his father sailing through the air alongside the boulder that had struck him, he yanked on the rope. An instant later, an automatic braking device arrested the fall.
“Dad! Are you okay?” No answer.