The previous post described our visit to the Eastern rock-climbing Mecca known as Seneca Rocks. Our tour guide, Richard from Pittsburgh, told us a tale too long for the previous post. His story – and this one – entwines Seneca Rocks, religious sects, and human frailty.
The park rangers assigned to Seneca Rocks are too few to handle a serious injury rescue. They rely on the townsfolk, many of whom grew up scaling those cliffs. Most of the townsmen are Mennonites, or Anabaptists, an early branch off from Catholicism. They believe that effective baptism must be voluntary on the part of the recipient, and since newborns lack free will, true acceptance of the faith can only happen many years later. They broke off from The Church within a decade or two of Martin Luther, maybe before, perhaps after. On those dates The Chronicles are vague. Modern Mennonites are serious as cancer about sin, the Bible, and the role of God in everyday life. The Amish eventually split off from the Mennonites to form an even sterner religion. Um-hmmh.
According to Richard, early one summer evening a fellow climbing alone broke his leg on a highly technical (a serious mistake can be fatal) descent. Word went out and the climbing community marshaled their resources. Nearly a hundred sturdy fellows with ropes, rock anchors, carabiners, and years of experience on the Rock appeared in less than an hour. They formed a human ant line at solid footholds along the way to the injured climber. Their plan was to pass up a stretcher, strap the broken man to it, and pass him down from one secure station to another. This they had done a few times before.
In time the point man of this rescue brigade reached the climber needing help. It’s very quiet at night along the Seneca Rocks, and sound carries much further than usual. A voice high up the Rocks called down “He’s not hurt! just missed his rappel exit point. He fears looking for it in the dark. What should I do?”
The rescue leader, a young Mennonite preacher, called back: “The wages of sin is Death. Abandon him!”
In Richard’s version the pastor’s response was much shorter: He thundered just one enraged monosyllabic verb preceding ‘him’. I never lie to you my readers. I cannot believe a man of the cloth would use, let alone shout such an oath. At least not in the presence of so many of his flock.
The rescuers went home. The climber spent a sleepless night on the Rock and found his exit point at first light, then slunk back into camp before noon. He quit rock-climbing and took up sky-diving. Jumping out of planes just seemed more forgiving.