In the winter of 2004, I escaped my duties as a student and headed down to Joshua Tree National Park, the long time haunt of many of my friends. They spent most of their time running around the blobs in the park, climbing ropelessly. That was the game in Joshua Tree and I followed suit. On December 18th, I stretched and headed around hidden Valley Campground, looking for routes to warm up on. My friend Dave and his buddy Raleigh booted up at the base of Double Cross, a moderate 5.7. I followed the pair up the climb and we talked and laughed about the day.
When we finished, I soloed Tabby Litter, a 5.8 on the other side of the formation. Raleigh suggested it. It was a good route albeit short. Dave went back to camp and Raleigh and I bouldered a little. We climbed up and down on the Pyramid Boulder. I was getting worked and wanted to solo more. Raleigh asked me if I wanted to go climb Baby Apes with him on the Bachar Toprope wall. I shook my head and said I would rather go off on my own.
I went to Intersection Rock and fell a hundred feet soloing the North Overhang. I laid in a pool of blood at the base. I felt destroyed. My friends came and helped me. My family flew from across the continent to be by my side.
I came out of the hospital and recovered substantially, going on to becoming a more successful man and climber. My story became well known in the climbing community. I am sure Raleigh heard it.
In March of 2006, Raleigh Collins ran off the top of Sports Challenge Rock and dove into the boulders below. He died taking a smaller fall than I.
I did not know Raleigh well but I often wonder if I set a bad precedence. If he thought that he too could stand up from a disaster, and have his friends, his family, and strangers rush to his side. I set an example. Now I sometimes think to myself, "Did I kill Raleigh Collins?"
I do not know. I only wish we had climbed Baby Apes that day. Maybe we could have helped each other. At the least we could have laughed about something.