Barely Breathing

By: Pamela Clare

Many thanks to Michelle White, Jackie Turner, Shell Ryan, Pat Egan Fordyce, Debby Owens, and Ann Wainwright for their feedback as I worked on this novel.

Special thanks to Jeff Sparhawk, public information officer with Rocky Mountain Rescue Group™, who took the time to explain the complex work of alpine rescues so that I could present it to my readers. My admiration for RMRG never ceases. Any errors in this story are mine.

Additional thanks to Rick Hatfield, park ranger, for the ride-along and continued friendship; and to my younger son Benjamin Alexander for his insights as a county seasonal ranger. I couldn’t have written this book without these two bunny-loving tree-huggers.

Thanks to author Julie James for giving me some insights into life in Chicago. I’ll have to visit one day and try Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza.

And, finally, thanks to all my climbing heroes, those here and those who are gone, for living the dream: Lynn Hill, Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker, Gören Kropp, Dean Potter, Steph Davis, Alex Honnold, Ueli Steck, the Wideboyz… In my imagination, I’m touching the sky right beside you.


Colorado and climbing lingo is listed here in order of appearance. I have included only those terms that were not specifically defined in the text. Many of these are probably self-explanatory, but I’m offering this reference just to be certain. I encourage you to watch climbing films on video to get a feel for this dynamic sport.

“At altitude” — A phrase Coloradans use to distinguish life and conditions in the mountains from life anywhere else.

Rock cut — A place where a rock has been cut or blasted away to make room for a road, usually leaving high rock walls on the uphill side but sometimes on both sides. Also, an overlook on Trail Ridge Road.

Knockers — Short for “tommyknockers,” a mythical creature brought to Colorado and other states by miners from Cornwall and Devonshire. Some people believed they were the spirits of dead miners. Others believed they were supernatural. Most agreed that they played pranks on miners and protected them by warning them of impending cave-ins. Some, however, believed they were evil and caused the cave-ins. It was a tradition for miners to toss the crusts of their pasties to the knockers to keep them happy.

Evac — Short for evacuation, the term used for rescuing a stranded, lost, or wounded party from the wilderness. “Vertical evac,” means more or less straight down (or sometimes up). “Scree evac” means following the fall line down over rocks and dirt. “Trail evac” means using an existing trail.

Free solo climbing — Climbing without ropes or other protection.

Sports climbing — Climbing with ropes using permanently fixed protection, such as bolts drilled into the rock.

Take a whipper — An especially hard fall, often with a pendulum motion that slams the climber into the rock. Often caused by unskilled belaying.

Belay — To provide security to a climber by letting out or taking in slack, often through a braking device, in order to limit the distance a climber might fall.

Rack — A term used to describe the collection of gear that they take with them on a climb. It’s not on a rack, per se, but rather a loop of webbing that is often slipped over one shoulder and across the torso like a sash with the gear dangling by the hip where it can be easily reached. Yes, there are lots of “check out my rack” jokes.

Anchor — A configuration of gear, such as ropes, cams, and cables, used to secure belay ropes during an evacuation.

Anchor problem — Doing the mathematics to figure out how best to create the anchor to ensure it will hold the required weight. This includes how the anchor is set, where it is set and what is used to set it.

Lead climber — The climber who goes first and places protection on the rock as he or she goes, attaching the belay rope as they climb (traditional climbing) or clips the belay rope into preplaced equipment attached to bolts (sports climbing). They’re responsible for picking the route and making sure that protection is set safely. This person is often a very experienced and skilled climber.

Down climb — To climb back down a climbing route.

Call number — The number assigned to an individual in law enforcement or search and rescue that identifies them to dispatchers on the radio. Different agencies have identifiable numbers. All sheriff’s deputies might be 16-something, while all city police might be 12-something, for example.

SAR — Search & Rescue

Crack climbing — To ascend a rock face by climbing up a natural fissure in the rock.

Offwidth climbing — To climb a crack that is too big to manage using fingers and too small to climb by wedging your entire body (“chimney”) into the rock. Expect to bleed.

Hand stack — Both hands pressed together, sometimes bent, to fill an offwidth crack.

Fist stack — Using fists side-by-side as an anchor in an offwidth crack.

Heel-toe cam — Using one’s entire foot as an anchor in an offwidth crack.

Big Bro — The name of an expandable bolt used to create anchors in a rock face.

Cams — Expandable devices inserted into cracks as anchors. Camalots are a brand of cams.

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