I nearly died a week ago this past Sunday.
I was in the Kingdom of Jordan to help my son, Chris, settle into his five-week cultural immersion course at a university in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
Since we’re both avid climbers, we selected the most highly-rated guiding service in the country. We chose to climb on two successive days. The first day went swimmingly. We rock-climbed in a mostly shady area and wrapped up around 1pm. Oh, and we were guided by the owner of the climbing service.
The second day also happened to be Chris’s first day of school. As a result, I arranged to climb with two of the owner’s assistants (I’m still not sure why the owner didn’t guide me himself). Anyway, because we had a two-hour drive South to get to the mountain (and to beat the afternoon heat), the junior guides picked me up at 5 am.
Long story short, when we began climbing, I immediately realized the two 25-year-old guides were out of their depth. They struggled with just about everything a seasoned guide would know how to do in his sleep. They also made the mistake of packing only three liters of water.
But, all seemed well as we reached the top after six successive pitches. Ty and Mo, the guides, told me it would be a quick half-hour hike down the back of the mountain and we’d be back in the car and refreshing ourselves with water, bananas, etc.
That’s when the drama began. They couldn’t find the way down. Time and again, we tried different routes only to reach dead ends. Time was passing, the sun was getting hotter by the second and, without water, we were quickly weakening.
Ty made the choice to try and rappel us down a rugged, bush and tree-strewn section of the mountain. Mo went fist. I went second. As I neared the bottom of the first rappel, I spotted Mo under a tree. He’d passed out from sun stroke. I relayed the information to Ty, who was back at the top.
He immediately self-rappelled, assessed the other guide’s predicament and told me we’d have to go down a very rugged, 30 degree angled slope in order to get to the car and bring back food and water for Mo..
I tried to keep up with him, but dehydration was kicking in and my strength was ebbing. Ty knew I was holding him up, so he pointed at a small cave and said, “You stay in that cave. I’ll go ahead alone and get right back to you guys with water.”
So, I crawled into the cave and waited. And waited. After an hour, I began calling out for Ty. I heard his voice in the far distance, saying he’d be with me in 20 minutes or less.
Another hour passed. I realized something had happened to Ty, and he wouldn’t be coming back.
And, there I sat, alone in a dark cave, barely shielded from the relentless sun and the 130 degree heat.
I was barely conscious when I suddenly felt my mobile device buzz. It was my son. Somehow, some way, the local cell service extended all the way from Amman, where he was, to my little cave. His text read, “Hope your climb went well. See you for dinner.”
I quickly texted him my predicament. My phone buzzed again. Chris said he’d contact the owner of the climbing service immediately.
I knew that, regardless of what the owner could, or would do, I was really left with just two choices: slip into a permanent blackness from which there was no return or try my best to down climb the wickedly tough cliff. I chose the latter, thinking I didn’t want my body found in the cave and that I’d rather go down fighting.
What I didn’t know as I tripped, fell and stumbled from one bush or rock to another was that Chris had reached the owner who, in turn, had alerted the Royal Jordanian Army.
Meanwhile, I had been able to climb to within 200 or so feet of what appeared to be the pathway out. But, it wasn’t. It was just another vertical wall. I was done. I had no ropes. I’d been without water for at least six hours and, as I sat down, I once again began debating whether to lie there and die or somehow use all of my rock climbing skills to somehow descend the wall.
That’s when I heard the distant wailing of sirens. Help was on the way.
It took another hour for the soldiers to finally make their way to the base of my cliff. But, there was another problem. They didn’t know how to climb. So, there I was, only 200 feet away from survival, but still stuck in neutral.
Since my tongue had swelled and my breathing was really labored, I used physical gestures to indicate to the troops below I desperately needed water. Two or three of them scrambled as far up the wall as they could and got to within 100 feet or so of me. They then began lobbing liter bottles of water up to me. Each fell short and exploded as it hit the road far below.
Then, unbelievably, one of the troops threw a Hail Mary pass (literally) and I was able to snag it. I inhaled the water and began to revive.
At almost the same time, one of the guiding services’ other guides finally arrived on the scene with rope and equipment. He was able to rappel me down to safety. The other two guides were rescued as well. Both had suffered severe heat strokes but, with some medical assistance, were quickly coming around.
As we drove back to Amman that night, I reflected on my 17-hour, near-death ordeal and realized that Chris had saved my life. If he hadn’t decided to check in with me at the precise moment he did, and if he hadn’t immediately contacted the guiding service when he did, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now.