Holding the Rope

Two of the finest international friends Anna Marie and I have made while traveling throughout the world are Dr. James Terbush and his lovely wife, Leigh. For years, Dr. Terbush worked for US Department of State as a medical liaison at many different US Embassies. Eventually, Captain Terbush became the Command Surgeon for NORAD, NORTHCOM and Home Land Security. We worked together in Senegal, Argentina, South Africa, and Afghanistan. We even sat together in the palace living room of the president of Albania, in Tirana, where we helped organize medical camps for the refugees fleeing the Bosnia-Herzegovina-Croatia massacres. 

We became better acquainted with the Terbush family when we spent time with them at the Embassy in Athens, Greece and explored the mystical Greek islands together with their 21 year old son, Peter. Jim Terbush and Peter loved to climb mountains together all over the world. Peter decided to enroll in Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado and started teaching climbing classes, talking incessantly about one day becoming a climbing guide.

Early on, Dr. Terbush had taught young Peter about the “belay” position used when you are holding the rope to secure a climbing partner on the mountain above you. “Always protect a partner at the end of his rope,” he would tell Peter. “Never let go!”

Peter and two of his college friends, Kerry and Joseph, decided to make a quick trip to Yosemite National Park and climb the legendary Glacier Point Apron. Sunday evening, June 13, 1999, Kerry had climbed about 60 feet up the mountain. Peter was in the belay position securely holding Kerry to the granite face as he climbed. Then the absolutely, unimaginable thing happened! With the roar of a hundred freight trains and the energy of an exploding bomb, the upper ledge of the famous mountain let loose and shed in excess of 200 tons of boulders down to the valley below. Peter looked up to see boulders the size of automobiles coming straight down upon him. The earth shook. He looked again and saw Kerry. Peter knew that if he moved the slightest he would lose his belay position and Kerry would swing out and catch the full force of the cascading granite from over 1,000 feet above. “Always protect a partner at the end of his rope . . . Never let go!” Peter could have made it to safety. He chose to stay. The valley filled with dust and people in the park fled.

Both Kerry and Joseph lived. Young Peter was crushed by the thunderous slide. In order to free the rope to let Kerry down they had to get to Peter. There he was . . . his left hand was gripping the rope above and his right hand pulled down hard against his right hip just in front of the belay device attached to the climbing harness at his waist. . . the perfect belay position. They had to pry the rope from Peter’s grip. The Park Rangers and Search and Rescue members on the scene hailed Peter as a hero, consciously giving his life for the lives of his two climbing buddies.

Today, I want to thank my friends, Dr. Jim Terbush and Leigh, for bringing Peter into this world and into this culture. And I want to honor his memory by thanking Peter for his dauntless character and selfless expression of sacrifice. Whenever my circumstances press me to the point of inescapable decision, I want to recall Jim’s life lesson to his son, Peter, “Always protect a partner at the end of his rope . . . Never let go!”

**If you would like to know more about the Peter Terbush Memorial Outdoor Leadership Summit-Western State College of Colorado, go to:www.western.edu/student-life/wp/outdoor-leadership-summit **