Falling Fifteen Feet From The CCHS Rock Wall: My Experience and Thoughts Going Forward


Ethan Pennington

Preparing to climb the rockwall, senior Andrew Shafer of CCHS looks back to his belayer to double check that the belay is ready for him to start climbing. To ensure his safety, he fastens the harness and communicates with his partner.

At Carbondale Community High School, there consists various physical education classes and a plethora of activities performed in each individual class. From Personal Fitness, to Team Sports and Strength Training, to the most unique of the classes: Adventure Education. Ran by baseball coach Scott Hankey, the Adventure Ed courses are uniquely set apart from the rest of the classes due to the wide variety of fun and interesting activities that take place within the class. Geocaching, juggling, and rollerblading all take place as courses the students participate in when taking the class. However, the most exciting, and potentially the most dangerous of these activities, is none other than rock climbing. 

When speaking on the development of Adventure Ed, Hankey spoke about how it was technically the reason he got his job, saying, “When I got hired, no one else wanted to do this. When I was asked, I told them ‘absolutely’ because I’ve been doing this my whole life, I used to go out to the mountains and climb, I love this… and it’s exactly what I want to do.”

The rock climbing unit is one of the most adored and fun units within the Adventure Ed class, and Hankey backs this by performing the unit twice per year, once each semester. And whilst the students are all trained to know exactly how to ensure the safety of each other student when climbing, I, unfortunately, wasn’t given the luxury of being spared from a quick accident.

On March 7th, 2023, I happened to be one of the few students to tackle and defeat the inclined wall that lays in the back gym of CCHS. And whilst the victory felt rewarding, the aftermath happened to be less extravagant. Through my excitement, my rope quickly loosened and slipped upwards as I fell opposite, quickly traveling down. Landing on my back and left arm, a resounding thud was heard in the gym as many watched me plummet.

The individual belaying me, a friend of mine, happened to pull way too fast to circumvent the fall, and my vision momentarily blurred. Looking back, I definitely was fearful for my life and especially for the idea of breaking my spine and becoming paralyzed. But soon after, despite the scare, I stood on my feet and regained my composure despite the long distance.

As I was rushed ice and ushered around by Hankey, I laughed off the fall and assured him, and my belayer, that I was okay and was just sore. And sore I was, as, nearly two weeks later, my arm is completely healed, but my back still suffers soreness and stiffness occasionally. The pain has incredibly decreased since, but the overall injury persists. Since then, I have been able to return to daily workouts, so the ultimate fatality of the injury was not all severe.

Coach Scott Hankey belays senior Andrew Shafer as he climbs the rock wall in the back gym of CCHS. Hankey pulls the rope to the right and tightens the rope to guarantee that Shafer will be held up in the air if he were to fall.

This however, leaves one final question: What are my thoughts on rock climbing now that I have personally succumbed to the dangerous incidents that could surround the activity? And the answer is… I mean it’s still pretty cool regardless! Even despite my fall and the POTENTIAL to be dangerous, it ultimately wasn’t, and that’s just how it is. I might have been hurt, and I definitely could have been hurt more, but living in “what ifs” does not account for the here and now. And right now? I feel fine, and would love to return to rock climbing!

I think that having rock climbing as a unit in Adventure Ed. is ingenious and very enthralling and rewarding. It’s a unique event that shouldn’t be cut due to injuries that lay at fault of student error. The class being taught by Hankey, prideful of his care in the aspect of safety, ensures the correct measurements are taught to the students. And even if an error or mistake was made from another, not one bit did it discourage me from loving rock climbing and Adventure Ed.