They’re the creepy crawly things that make us shiver, gasp & hesitate at the thought of running into them while climbing. These are the examples & tales of climbers from around the world who encountered more than they bargained for while out at the crag.
When we go climbing outside we are excited, happy and looking to have a fun time climbing. We seldom think of the creatures that call our favorite crags home or the items that may be left behind lying and waiting inside the holds & cracks we so casually put our fingers inside of in order to scale these unassuming routes.
“Three times now I’ve put my hand on a snake. The first time it was two snakes hibernating next to each other. The second time, a snake fully got into strike position when I grabbed it by accident. It tried to strike at me, launching itself off the cliff trying to get to me and hit the ground. Damn kamikaze snake…. Third time it just wriggled and I was able to put some pro in next to it. The cost of new routes. Here’s a photo of the last snake I grabbed.” – Sam Small, climbing in the Blue Mountains of Australia
Why we wear shoes…
When at the crag, we have a tendency to pay little mind to what may be wandering around near us. We often have our heads looking up checking out the rock, counting bolts, looking for holds. We will drop the rope as the climber ties in while the belayer gets set up. Its usually when our climbing partner is a few pieces up past the “decking zone” of the route that we decide to take a look around. Of course you are tied in and only have a few feet of moving room when you see Mr. Tarantula casually crawling up to your feet wanting to say “Hi”
How many legs?!
“So, about a year ago I was just breaking into leading 5.10 sport. I had found a route I really wanted called Corsicane Brothers (5.10a) at the Cheech and Chong wall on Reimer’s North Shore. I went out with a couple of friends to try and get the onsight. The scariest part of the route is this run out traverse from the second to third bolt. I’m doing the traverse and feeling good about it. As soon as I clip the third bolt, my partner, Chris, says, “Okay, Kelly, you need to really calmly look to your left. Don’t freak out.” I’m thinking to myself that it must be a snake. I can handle snakes, so no biggie.
I turn to my left and see a 10in gigantic centipede with bright yellow legs, and an evil-looking red head coming directly towards my left hand hold. A snake would have been fine, but this I could not handle, so I screamed, “FALLING!” and let go. Unfortunately the little bugger disappeared into one of the hand pockets on the climb. It took me a good 20 minutes to get the nerve up to get back on the climb, finish it and retrieve my gear back.
Curiosity later got the best of me. Texas redheaded centipedes can and will bite. But what is even more appealing about them is that their legs have sharp points. If they crawl on you, you will likely experience mild swelling and necrosis of the area their legs touched–pleasant, no? I’m not sure I would ever call necrosis a “mild” reaction.
Fast forward to this past summer. I was teaching a newbie girlfriend some sport climbing skills. We were out at Arbor Wall at Reimer’s proper one day, because some of the climbs there only have chains, and she wanted to learn to clean sport anchors and rap. I had her lead this easy 5.7 dihedral, but as she was going for the anchors, I hear her say, “NOPE!” as I catch her whipping on me. She came down and refused to tell me what happened, but wanted me to finish the climb for her. I figured there must be some big, hairy spider up top, which wouldn’t bother me, so I roped up to finish the climb & clean it. I got up to the spot where she bailed and looked around for whatever little creepy crawling had wigged her out. Curled up in the left foothold for clipping the anchors is a smaller specimen of my dear friend the Texas redheaded centipede. I climbed up above its hidey hole and scrunched myself up above it, praying it would leave me off its list of things to fuck up that day.
Afterwards, I was DONE with Arbor wall and suggested we go climb 8 Flake, one of the premier 5.8s in the park. When we got there, Jess’s head was still messing with her, so she asked me to lead. I led the climb quickly and came down. Jess STILL looked freaked out. I asked her what was up, and she said as I was clipping the anchors, ANOTHER redheaded centipede had crawled towards me and then disappeared in a pocket. Needless to say, we wrapped up the day after that climb.” – Kelly Lawrence, Climbing in Reimer’s Ranch, Texas in the United States
Not a toe hook..
“December of 2016. In Australia that means it’s hot as balls, and in Perth that means you need to travel south if you want to boulder in less than 30’C (86’F). We wake up at 3am, drive 4 hours south, climb some rocks. My weekend ritual. Copper Rocks is a beautiful spot 5 meters from the ocean, and a popular fishing spot to boot. Coffee in hand, I decided to jump straight onto Man Status linkup, a V5/6 with an awesome “do or die” finish on a glory jug. My gut told me to chalk the holds first. “You beauty,” I thought, “Send time.” I was wrong.
As I felt the holds, I reached up to test the glory jug, and something stabbed my finger! I looked and what I saw made go cold… Rusty, jagged bits of metal are inside this hold. Somebody had decided to use the jug to store their bloody fishhooks?!! I had dealt with fishermen there before in the past, so I didn’t even waste my breath. You have to be careful and aware. I’m just glad that I checked the holds first & didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.” – Mitch Woodward, Climbing along the beaches of Southwest Australia
A Stone Surprise.
“My first day at Monster Rock near Pace Bend in Texas, I decided to start with the easiest route, a 5.6 called Swordmaiden of Rohan. As I pulled up into a small cave a little below the anchors, I nearly jumped when I encountered the countenance of a gargoyle. When I go there now, I get a kick from the startled cry my follower and Monster Rock first-timer emits.” – Bob Silher, Climbing Monster Rock in Texas
Why is the rock squeaking??
“Climbing in Maryland one day, my son was taking a strangely long time working a move on a 5.4 top rope route. When he finished and came down, I asked him what the deal was up there (he was the first climber of the day), and he told me that when he reached into the crack up there, he heard a strange sound, looked in and saw a bat, and spent the next few minutes figuring out how to do the climb without using the crack. That turned it into something more like 5.8, and some in our party never even got that far because the thought of the bat shut them down.” – Bob Sihler, while climbing in Maryland
Not what you want staring back at you…
“Around 2008 my wife and I decided to sell off most our stuff and move to New Zealand. We were only able to take what we could carry with us. After selecting a few personal items, we filled the remaining space in our suitcases with our rock climbing gear. On the beaches of Lake Taupo is the small and friendly Maori tribe living beneath the cliffs of Whanganui Bay, pronounced ‘Faan-ga-newey’ for the gringo readers.
When we heard about the rock climbing, we were asked to respect the tribe living there. We had to park and sleep in the camp site designated for the outsiders, and find Mary to gain permission to stay on their land. Permission is easy to obtain if you have the right amount of change. The beach on Whanganui is surrounded by cliff, steep hill and bush. Bush is a local term for what, at home in Utah, we would call a jungle. If you pick up a rock and throw it into the lake, it will float. Its a fantastic spot to camp but the coldest night I’ve ever endured.
We spent the day climbing short bolted routes on Whenkenui Wall while a half dozen local kids hung around and chatted with us. They were hilarious and filled with life. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the climb we were near. I just remember it being on the left most end of the wall. One of the kids, with a tone of dare in his voice told us about a human body that was stuck in a crack above us. It sounded like the type of thing a kid would say just to see if you believe them. It wasn’t far up the crack, maybe 15 feet or 20 feet. I shuffled by way up the wall, and peaked down a deep pocket in the side of the wall. There, staring right back at me, was a human skull perched in the dirt. I think someone had moved it into position as to put it on display for other tourists to gawk.
When I returned to the bottom of the crack the kid explained to me that years back a woman in the village contracted tuberculosis. In an effort to self quarantine she climbed up the wall, stuffed herself into the pocket and refused to leave. When she eventually passed, the village left her as she was. Its been a decade since the experience and interested to hear from other people who have visited the woman. Were the children somehow playing a trick on me?” – Jacob Shirley, Utah-based climber while in New Zealand
“So basically, I use to work for an outdoor adventure school called Tihoi. This Venture school takes year ten boys for half of the school year. The students participate it a variety of outdoor adventure activities like hiking, sailing, kayaking, caving, high ropes, alpine trekking and rock climbing. Each activities progressively gets more challenging the longer the students are at Tihoi.
When I worked at Tihoi the last rock climbing expedition was to climb Tibia, a 50m trad climb in Whanganui bay on Lake Taupo. To access Tibia we had to get permission from the local Marae. One staff member would lead each pitch and top belay up the students. This would take us a solid 8 hours. So we would spend a lot of time on the rock. In some cases groups have slept on the side of Tibia. On the first pitch there was a skull. We were told by the locals that the remains are from a lady who lived in the village who was infected with leprosy. She was excluded from the Marae and lived for the rest of her life on the third pitch of Tibia.
The first European climbers that climbed Tibia discovered the remains and tried to return them to the Marae. The Marae refused to take them back believing that they were possessed. The remains were returned to Tibia but only to the first ledge of the climb. It always made an exciting & sometimes scary climb to have a human skull meet you at the first ledge.” – Sean Mayo, an Australian climber while in New Zealand
(Out of a respect for the dead, we do not post photos of human remains)
Why did I have to poke it with a stick?!!
For many of us, we will never encounter human remains hiding inside of a crack while climbing (hopefully). But there is one cold shivering encounter that you will most likely run into while climbing. It was the biggest example everyone mentioned when researching for this article. You will find it hiding, unassuming in a corner of a roof usually above your head of course.
It will look very hairy or fuzzy, curiosity will get the better of you & will immediately regret your decision. The second you touch it, thousands of daddy long leg spiders will burst out like a scene from aliens.
Remember, we share the crags & cliffs with many different creatures and has a history dating back thousands of years. Sometimes you encounter things that make you second guess your desire to stick your fingers in that hold or wanting to look into that crack the next time you are climbing up a route!
Have a story you would like to share about a creepy or scary encounter while out at the crag? We want to hear them! Share it in the comments below!
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