Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Legend of Mount Erie

Ken Beane. husband is the legend of Mount Erie. (well, in my opinion anyway) I have good reason to think this though; he was bad ass in his day and established some of the hardest rock climbing routes there. His picture is even on the cover of the Mount Erie climbing guide (looking extremely hot, I might add) published in 2005 and currently out of print, though a new version is due to come out soon.

There is one climbing story in particular that is 'legendary' in nature, because it is simply quite unbelievable. It was so long ago--before we had kids, (another lifetime it seems) and after that much time you begin to wonder if your facts have been embellished. I dug out the old book and thumbed through it and found a little blurb; it cited the same story. To further support this impossible tale are bolts that climbers drill into the rock to anchor their gear into for safety; and when they are drilled in, they there to stay--so you just can't fudge distances. And so, the fact is my husband fell 60 feet to the ground; and yes, it is still hard to believe.

For those of you who know nothing of rock climbing; I'm sorry, but I don't feel like doing much explaining about how it is done. I will say that when you are the first one to make it up a certain section of the rock, you get to name it. (thus "establishing" it) Here is the "blurb" from the guide book about how Ken's route got named Ground Zero:

Ken was about 60 feet up attempting to clip the 4th bolt when he fell. Fortunately, Ken was okay although badly shaken. His belayer had well-burnt hands and was very apologetic. 

Slightly undersold, wouldn't you say? Sixty fu*#ing feet!?! I hate to swear (ok, sometimes I like it) but hello...who falls 60 feet to the ground and is just "badly shaken"? And don't you love that the guy who dropped my husband to what should have been certain death was "very apologetic"? No shit. Ken just met him that day, and figured he could at least hold the rope; I mean, that part is not all that complicated. There is just one thing you have to be sure to do--have the rope in the right position when someone takes a fall. I'm guessing he wanted to impress Ken by being able to take in some of the slack, which would have lessened the fall had it worked. (climbers always fall--just not to the ground, usually) But it didn't work, and once you have the rope out of position when the full weight of the person falling is on it, there's nothing you can do. (hence the badly burned hands) We contribute the phenomenon that Ken was not broken to bits to the fact that he completely trusted his belayer to stop him; and therefore was totally relaxed when he hit the ground. Although it helps to explain it a little, I will still call it a miracle.

See that rock face in the distance?
Ken put the most difficult route going up that thing.
Sometimes I get very contemplative about things, and of course this event is one of those things that really gets my wheels turning. I look at our beautiful kids, and our amazing 26 years together; and I realize these things could not have been--actually should not have been. Last weekend I needed to go back there and see the spot where my husband should have died, and give thanks that he didn't.

This is a lot easier said than done. Ken tried to show me in the guide book how to get to the infamous route, and when I got to the start of the trail (it begins on a real trail, but you quickly need to veer off) I found a posted hand drawn map of the climbing trails and took a picture to hopefully help me; but all to no avail.

Climbers are not hikers. Climbers don't give a crap about making a decent trail--they just want to get climbing. Therefore, climbing trails are not only crazy steep, (what's a switchback?) they are usually undefined --basically a brushy mess.
The map that didn't help me at all
I missed this trail the first time around--can you blame me?
Where the heck is the trail?
I won't bore you with how I went up and down and around looking for the right spot, but I will say I was EXHAUSTED by the time I got to where I thought "Ground Zero" was located. After showing Ken my pictures, he let me know I was just 70ish feet to the left of it. "But Ken, there was no trail going that direction"...oops, I forgot to consider it's a climbers trail; a tiny ledge barely carved into the side of the cliff that no sane person would walk on. No wonder I'm not a climber.
Can you see the climbers?
Before I end this, I need to give acclamation to Dallas Kloke, the author of the previously mentioned guide book and who many would acknowledge as the true legend of Mount Erie; which he was. He established routes on Mount Erie years before Ken was even born. And he climbed his whole life, until that fateful day when he dislodged a block of rock just 10 feet from the summit of "The Pleiades" and fell 300 feet to his death. Life and death, miracles and the absence of miracles, the beauty and the horror of this world with all it's mystery and wonder...I could never explain it. But I will always try my best to embrace it anyway, with thanks.


  1. Wow I had no idea! our fearless worship leader really is a miracle man. great post! !

  2. Hello! I'm lookin to contact ken about his route "when the cats away" if he could message me. That would be great. Thanks!