“There it is!” My finger pointed energetically at the hill country panorama in the distance, beyond the front windshield of the car. “There’s Enchanted Rock, do you see it.” My wife Dorothy,sitting beside me, looked intently in the direction I was pointing. There followed and ominous silence from the passengers seat, so I reiterated: “Don’t you see it?” Without turning her head, she replied hesitantly: “No.” It isn’t any wonder that her response was in the negative, for the, “Rock,” was still a good 10 miles away and quite unrecognizable in the vast, hazy landscape far ahead of us. My certainty was certainly not from being sharp eyed, but simply because I had been there many times before. Besides, she couldn’t get a constant view of distant objects, since the horizon continually changed as we traversed the rising and falling of the undulating hilly terrain. There was no need for further comment, for shortly we would come to the top of a hill where Dorothy would see the natural wonder, which incidentally she had been too before.
It was a beautiful, clear and sunny summer day, perfect for what we had come for – rappelling off the backside of, “Enchanted Rock.” The gigantic monolith, some 20 miles East of Fredericksburg, Texas, is a truly awe inspiring site. Barren and smooth, the colossal mound of solid red granite rises hundreds of feet above, “Mother Earth,” like one of her erect nipples.
Our drive ended as we turned off the highway, that passes about a mile from the monolith, and into the, “Enchanted Rock State Park,” which was developed around the site. Our caving buddies were already there, unloading all the gear that we would be using on the training session we had come for. I emphasis: “Caving,” because our group were members of the: “Alamo Grotto,” which was a Speleologists (Spelunkers) club out of San Antonio, Texas. We were here to instruct the new members of our club in the fine art of, rappelling. Of course the rappelling we normally did was down some damp, dark and deep pit in the ground or in a cave. But, that day it would be off a high cliff at the rear of, Enchanted Rock.
With long coils of nylon rope, back packs and rappelling gear in hand, we started the hike to the base of the monolith. Then our long trudge began up the face. It started at a moderate 45 degree angle, but soon rose to an exhausting 65 degree rakish pitch. We huffed and puffed our way slowly (with frequent rest stops) up the inclining slick granite surface. Exhausted, we finally reached the summit and made our way over the top toward the back side. Finding a suitable location for our practice everyone began to prepare their gear for the rappel. Then one end of our nylon rope was tied to a stout rock, and the remainder was heaved over the cliff side; we were ready.
The location of our practice area at the rear of Enchanted Rock is not like the smooth sloping face at the front. It is a vertical drop of some 200 feet down to a boulder strewn and scrub brush floor below. It was sometime after most of the members had completed rappelling practice that Dorothy made a request: “Can I make a rappel off the cliff.” She had been sitting patiently in the shade of a small nondescript tree that was precariously sustaining it’s life on the windswept, dessicated granite summit. Although I know Dorothy is an adventuresome sort and was not afraid to push the boundaries of her abilities, I never dreamed she would want to rappel off this intimidating cliff. I though she came along for the scenery and hiking. Not so, for she insisted: “I want to do it.”
She confidently came over to the ciffs edge and I helped her put on the nylon harness and clipped the carabiner rings onto the rope. There was no hesitation as she stepped backward toward the edge of the cliff, letting the taught rope slide through the carabiners. Then she was over the edge and letting herself slowly descend down the precipice. For some time I could not see her but was constantly yelling out encouragement and waiting to hear her yell back: “I’m okay.” Finally, I saw the rope go slack which meant she was now at the bottom (or fell off the rope–nauuuu!). I knew there were other people on the bottom so I wasn’t concerned about her being released from the rope. I hooked up my gear and rappelled down the cliff to join Dorothy.
Imagine my surprise when I reached the bottom and saw she was all alone. When I got to her she was straddling, legs apart, two boulders, a foot on each boulder and frozen in fear. In a panicky voice she finally told me that everything was wet and slippery and if she moved she would lose her balance and fall on the jagged rocks. I tried reasoning with her, then suggested what to do, but to no avail, she would not budge. When she was close to hysteria I suddenly remembered an old lesson I was told. I reached up and slapped Dorothy across the face. Her mood changed to outrage over what I had done to her. It was the opening I needed. I shouted out a command to move one foot forward. I unmercifully made her move from that immobilized state a little at a time. Then another wave of panic prevented her from walking over the surrounding slippery rocks and leaves so she could get to dry ground. Once again I began to yell: “put one foot in front of the other -Now! Left foot, now the right foot, now left foot, right foot, left foot …..
Like a good soldier, Dorothy followed my commands. When we were finally on a hiking trail, walking back to the summit, Dorothy was able to weakly relate that years before she had fallen down a flight of stairs. What just happened had brought back the memories of falling out of control, but it was an invaluable experience which made her stronger, because she did not given up. It made me feel so good to be a part of the adventure that built her self confidence. Back on the top and after a while of resting, Dorothy turned to me and said: “Can I rappel again, I know what to do now when I get down. Left foot, right foot ……