Suburban Mountaineer

It has been my life's ambition to journey to Tibet - coach class, ride across countless miles of unpeopled terrain in a late-fifties Range Rover driven by an excommunicated monk, and proceed to spend the next few weeks in sub-zero temperatures climbing Mt. Everest with a team of strangers. Thus, last week I took the bus to Chicago (an attempt to condition myself for the travels to come) and interviewed for a position on a team planning a trip up the mountain in August.

After extensive questioning about my grade-point average, the lead climber asked me about my climbing experience. I began by relating my experiences building and working on scaffolding up to thirty feet tall.

"Anything else?" the lead climber asked a bit dubiously.

"Of course," I said and proceeded to tell him the following story showcasing my extensive rappelling experience.


In the first year or two that I worked as a contractor for Image Electronics - about 1996 - I came to a bit of an impasse on the roof of a house in south Tulsa. I was installing a Dish Network satellite dish just over the peak of the house's roof. We always put the dishes just over the peak so that they were not visible from the front of the house but could still point without obstruction at the satellite out in space, even if that satellite was situated in front of the house. (I never understood why they would situate a satellite so that it would be in front of a house, and I told the lead climber as much).

The pitch of this house's roof was where the difficulty lay. It was steep. So steep in fact that I could not walk up it. I was forced to crawl up sideways while hanging onto the edge of the roof for help. While installing the dish, I was lying over the peak of the roof, facing down towards the back yard and working in a somewhat inverted position. By doing this, I managed to get the dish installed and the wire attached and the holes in the roof appropriately blobbed with silicone.

Herald and I broke for lunch, following which we did the work inside the house attaching the wires to the receiver and hooking the receiver to the TV. The time then came to fine-tune the position of the dish so that it pointed squarely at the proper satellite. I just managed to pull myself back up to the peak of the roof where I once more put myself into the ignoble position needed to effect the adjustments. By this point in the day, the roof had heated up to about 150 degrees F. I gave this information to Herald over the walkie-talkie in my most assertive voice.

Eventually I made it back to earth intact. I had been fairly good and exhausted after the initial trip up to the peak that morning. By the end of the second, I was spent, my jeans were shredded, and I had informed Herald that there would be no more working on roofs of that calibre without some sort of assistance. Herald got the message, and the next day we made a trip to the Outdoor store.

After realizing that there was not a satellite dish installation section, we allowed the friendly store associate to lead us to the Mt. Everest climbing section where he showed us a colorful array of ropes, harnesses, straps, and very shiny clippy things. Herald picked out an assortment of goodies, and the friendly store associate helped me into them and demonstrated their use. Herald made the purchase which we stuffed into a handy pack pack and considered ourselves armed for battle should the occasion arise which called for such things.

The occasion soon came, because in those days the installation of Dish Network satellite dishes was big business. Arriving at the site, Herald took it upon himself to be the baseball player and threw a weighty object with a string attached over the roof. We then tied the string to our colorful new rope, hauled it over, and I girded up my loins with all my new straps and things and proceeded to climb the rope. Actually, I climbed the ladder to the edge of the roof first, and from there used the rope, which had been firmly affixed to the van in the driveway, to make my ascent to the dish-attachment site.

One of the devices we purchased was an ascending clutch. This clutch was attached, via a short length of rope, to the figure-eight device on the front of my harness, and I could use it to grip the climbing rope and then rest my weight against the rope and work unhindered. At the conclusion of the installation, I configured the rope around my figure-eight device, released the clutch, and rappelled back down the roof and to the ground in the time-honored fashion.

The rappelling gear was, to use a modern cliche which will cause many readers to gag, a game-changer. I could now work with better control and less fatigue than before. And it gave me a complete sense of safety and confidence. Presto.

Imagine my surprise when the lead climber declined my application for his team. I really don't know what he expects. True, most of my work on roofs was done in the summertime when temperatures are considerably warmer than those one would expect to encounter on Mt. Everest. But I did work on a roof once in the rain. That should count for something. I would think too, that my experience with satellite dishes would be of considerable value to the team. Surely they don't expect the blasted mountain to be populated with cell towers, after all. What if they have to call for a pizza or something?