The climbing world is reeling over the news of little 12-year-old Tito Traversa’s death. The almost uncanny circumstances causing Tito’s fatal fall, his immense talent and passion for climbing, and that toothy chipmunk grin of this not-yet-teenage phenom from Italy have all made this accident one the climbing world won’t soon forget.
As we’ve all tried to wrap our heads around this difficult tragedy, there has been a lot of (wrong) speculation about what went wrong, and many attempts to pull out some kind of meaningful indictment within this accident and extrapolate what that “says” about the state of climbing today. To me, many of these reactions feel either inappropriate and disrespectful, to just misplaced or wrong.
Don’t make this into something it’s not.
Tito’s death has nothing to do with many of the larger issues being bandied about online. Tito’s death has nothing to do with whether or not children should be climbing, or if they understand the risk to an acceptable level that would, in your judgment, permit them access to a crag. Tito’s death doesn’t have anything to do with the so-called grade-chasing, gym-bred mentality judgementally assigned to many of today’s youth climbers. Tito’s death has nothing to do with your fears and insecurities, and nothing to do with your self-affirmations about your own smug sense of safety at the cliff.
Any time something truly horrible happens, people seem to swim desperately through their own emotional flotsam for any peice of driftwood to latch onto in order to grasp the feelings they are experiencing. Sometimes, that piece of driftwood will have some real integrity and offer a viable solution out of the muck. Other times, it doesn’t.
A lot of what I’ve been reading and hearing seems to fall into the latter category.
Yesterday, Grimper released images of the quickdraw set-up that led to the catastrophic failure of the safety system climbers normally rely on while sport climbing. We still don’t know the full details of how these quickdraws were set-up like this in the first place, or why. Ultimately, for us as a climbing community, those questions matter less than they do to the Traversa family, and those individuals immediately involved in the event.
What we know is that someone handed Tito a rack of quickdraws that were improperly set up. The rope-end carabiner wasn’t clipped through the full-strength sling; it was only clipped through a rubber piece designed to hold the carabiner in place so it doesn’t spin. Somehow, someone in the group put the quickdraws together wrong. Catastrophically wrong. And Tito bore the full consequences of that other person’s mistake. It’s tragic.
People are wondering why no one there noticed this. They are outraged over the inattentiveness of the adults chaperoning the group of young climbers. Crags are no place for young climbers! Why are we only focusing on grades and performance when we should be focusing on safety? Tito wasn’t wearing a helmet. Climbing media doesn’t show pictures of climbers in helmets!
And so on …
They’re valid questions to some degree, but they don’t really have anything to do with this freak accident. Those who are making some of these extrapolations, if not downright indictments, I believe that they are inadvertently elevating themselves to a false moral high ground, which I find disrespectful to Tito, who he was, the mastery he had over the sport, and the community of young talented climbers that he is among.
As I wrote in my last post, any one of us can make a mistake, and in climbing, the room for error can be fatally slim. Though the age and talent of this climber make this incident unique, what happened to Tito could’ve happened to any one of us.
Who would’ve ever thought that John Long would forget to finish tying his knot? Well, after all these years, it happened. Don’t presume yourself to ever be above making a mistake. And don’t presume that you understand or accept the risks inherent to climbing any better than anyone else. No one goes out to a sport-climbing crag carrying the acceptance that they may die that day. No one.
I don’t know anyone who has ever inspected a rack of quickdraws. I know that I never have. Look at the differences between the draw that is incorrectly racked, and the one that is correct. They look almost identical. If I were Tito, just casually warming up in the sun with my friends, I would’ve taken those draws, put them on my harness and not thought twice about it. And you know what? You would have too.
Of course, setting up the draws in that wrong configuration is an incredibly stupid error to have made, obviously one born of inexperience. It’s something I can’t possibly imagine anyone ever doing. Obviously, the person who made this mistake looked at a properly racked draw and tried to recreate what she or he saw. It was a horrible mistake. But it was also a freak mistake—something none of us could’ve ever predicted.
As we know, if the worst-case scenario can happen, the universe sometimes conspires to show us that it will.
This isn’t the first time a climber has died because of someone’s inexperience. And it won’t be the last. But this was an accident that could’ve happened to any of us, regardless of age, gender, experience. If anything positive can come of Tito’s death, it is a reminder to also inspect our quickdraws—along with double-checking our knots, double-backed harnesses, locked belay biners, etc.
But don’t make Tito’s death something it’s not. He was an incredible climber, whose father was extremely safety conscious. In fact, this was the first day of Tito’s life that he went climbing outdoors without his father there. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise … But Tito was a safe climber and he was destined to push the limits of the sport in his own unique way. I know that his death will ultimately inspire other youth climbers to take his torch and go on to do what he sadly never got the chance to do.