At some point in this merry-go-round pastime that we call climbing everyone will have an epic, that is, they will experience a series of events while crag bound that weren't quite what they were planning on. I myself regularly have them, some may say I look for them (all lies) but I find they can provide a certain amount of extra neural stimulation (not to mention colonic irrigation) that climbing sometimes lacks. Call me mad, adventurous, silly... I don't care. Anyway enough waffling, this guide is to help you identify, deal with, and for the connoisseurs, cause, epic's. I digress.
Epics come in many shapes and forms, sizes and degrees of messiness. Your most common epic is the benightment, closely followed by the "oh dear, bit off route here" which is a personal favourite. Here's a list, with their appearance.
Benightment, is caused by "just going to fit another in" when the pub is surely calling. It is characterized by lack of sun, dark holds and every body else bogging off back to the van. These common occurrences rarely are the whole epic, but may cause one of the other gems.
Getting Off Route, is caused by a number of simple mistakes; aiming for what looks good/ safe/ protectable/ "fun", forgetting the route description, or a slight inner ear problem. It only really becomes an epic when the climb you end up doing becomes a) harder b)less protectable c) looser or d) moving.
Dropping Stuff, is caused by being stupid (full stop) However many would say that is a prerequisite of being a climber, so it is not surprising that it happens so frequently. There are different levels of epic caused by this action. At the lower end of the scale there is the single piece of gear, a diddy walnut shall we say, the level of epic then rises through items such as guide books, full sets of nuts, belay devices etc. Its hard to say what the top level would be, possibilities would be a rope, harness, shoes, or possibly a leg....
Big eyes, small limbs, large bowels, is a term I have invented (did you guess?) for selecting a route that is a little too malignant/ hairy/ diseased for your own good. In this I also include sand bags. This is characterized by tiredness, restlessness, irritability, paranoia, and possibly diarrhea and hallucinations in extreme cases. It may be a grading problem, or simply too esoteric for you (wimps).
Finally, Nature. This is the great leveler, and it is out to get you. It is at its worst when it catches you off guard. Picture the scene.....Its a bright and breezy day, the temperature is reasonable and you're in you shorts and starting a beautiful slab in the mountains. The gears a bit sparse and its pushing your grade time but you feel ready, off you go and before long you are flashing up the pristine slab on smears and crystals, then it pisses down....a bird craps on your head and starts pecking at the rope.....a sheep trips and starts rolling down the slab towards you.....you get the idea.
Dealing With Epics
Now if I gave too much away then it wouldn't be an epic would it? I am, however, willing to give some hints....
Benightment - You know that head torch you left in the bottom of your bag....Failing this I find that lighthouses, passing cars, general fear tends to light up the relevant holds. Other wise you could have started at a more sensible time(sorry).
Getting Off Route - Looking at the guide helps, as does asking politely and clearly someone with a guide where the #~@;/ route goes. Backing off is a bit tricky as when you're hanging on gear its hard to remove it. Abseiling from the top aides removal of any gear abandoned returning to route, or just do what I do...battle on regardless and call it a new (preferably silly) name.
PS. sky hooks are one type of gear you can remove while hanging on them.
Dropping Stuff - Catch them silly, or have a HUGE rack (a la de filth) or improvise (nut key belay any one?)
Big Eyes etc -Backing off IS an option and take it if you are in ANY doubt of survival, I have it on good authority that gear is less expensive than prosthetics. Otherwise keep your wits about you. Sandbags can be solved by impromptu belays and generously offering the lead to your second.
Nature - Tricky one this, rain etc needs suitable clothing, hexes deal with birds. But sheep require high caliber rifles, or possibly a helmet....
Seconds Beware! Epics happen to you too, Although apart from benightment and nature, the answer is generally tight rope.....or a pendulum I suppose...
These are trade secrets and I trust they will only be used by the like minded and not on unsuspecting victims. Very well.... The key to creating these exciting situations is in the route selection. Specifically in close attention to the vocabulary used in certain guides. Epics may be highlighted by such terms as esoteric (my favorite), bold, vegetated, ill frequented, traditional, even classics when combined with suitable weather. Combining this with correct conditions and the right gear left in the bag and the epic's all yours. Failing this, rope up close your eyes and turn round several times, walk until you bump into something and start climbing. Have fun.