Last Thursday I went Rock Climbing. It was the first time I’ve ever done it. I signed up for a beginner’s class with REI. I picked up one of my co-workers at the train station and we drove out to the REI Outdoor School Gear Shed where we met the two REI Outdoor School Instructors (Aaron and Patrick). There was a small group of us going and most of us had never climbed before.
I was a little apprehensive at first, but as I have gotten to know REI and its instructors, I felt confident I would be well supported. I do not know about you, but I do NOT favor heights. I prefer to keep my feet on the trekking trails.
It was a First Class day from beginning to end. We rode in the REI Van to Sub Stewart State Park, OR. It felt part like a field trip and part like an outdoor expedition! It also gave us time to get to know some of the other people going.
Upon arrival to the park, we had an overview of the day. P&A went over the itinerary for the day: Learn the basics, then practice them. Sounds good to me.
We geared up first. Okay, I may be a bit of a gear junky. I have backpacking gear galore and now ski gear. I usually steer clear of the climbing gear as most of it just looks like Alien Space Ship parts! (ASSp!) First we tried on harnesses (yes please). I mean really, how could anyone say no? Climbers, I’m starting to understand a bit more. Okay, then we got shoes and a doohicky, which is a technical term for a belay device. It was recommended that the shoes be tight, though given it was our first time, they suggested that we go for comfort. I chose comfort. Those things are TIGHT! I was a full size bigger and I was still as snug as a bug in a rug.
We learned how to tie an 8 knot. Then we learned how to tie that knot into our harness. My knots were exceptional. Knots are important. Safety First! But wow, when they are tied right, they are pure beauty.
We learned belaying skills. How to belay, and on belay (I will forever get those reversed), climb on, TENSION and lowering. As I have no problem telling anyone else what to do, especially when my safety is a concern, I am A-OK with commands.
We did lots of repetitions and worked with different people. Then we hiked up to the spot where we would be climbing for the day. Broughton Bluff.
Patrick had already gone up and set up space for three sets of climbers. It was very exciting, mixed with a little apprehension. We had some more instruction followed by a demonstration. P climbed 10 feet, A belayed and we followed along with the commands. They were great at communication, approach and demonstration.
Then it was our turn. They pointed out the three ropes and gave us an order of difficulty (easiest to most difficult). I was the first person to speak up, “I’m climbing the difficult one”. I mean really, why hesitate. The choice is so much easier when you do not wait.
I found someone who wanted to belay for me (Spiderman – okay his name was Parker, but honestly, he clung to the wall like spiderman, and, Parker!) After we checked each other’s gear out, I approached the wall. I was thinking that this moment needed some sort of ritual. I internalized a few “How’s ya father’s?” and commanded my belayer to On Belay!
Every inch felt like 10 feet. One pull off the ground and it seemed to feel so far away. “I’m doing this,” I thought and took a big breath and went. We were told to go up about 10 feet, practice Tension, let go and be lowered. It’s a good thing they had us do this at 10 feet. If I had been any higher, they would have had to have come rescue me.
The amount of will power it was taking to “let go” of the only thing I knew was keeping me from falling to a broken existence into a realm of “trust” that it would work out was amazing. There were so many, “What If’s?”
Three, Two, One, right? The first lurch made me yelp a little, but then it was just plain fun. Once I got to the ground, I was given a challenge by my instructor to make it up to that ledge by the end of the day. I decided I was going to try for it right then. Why not?
I did well, but I didn’t get to the top. Wow, it is HARD work! The way you cling for dear life to the rock, every muscle in your body tightens up. HOLD ON! That’s all you can think about. Little ledges you can barely fit a half of a toe onto (and by the way, now I know why tighter shoes are better, someone bring me a shoehorn!). The shoes I chose, though tight yet comfortable, would have served me better if I had chosen tighter and smaller. I can see how tighter fitting shoes would create more friction and less sliding.
When you’re clinging for your life you get tired! I was up higher than before, and the ledge was just above my head but also out of my reach. The rock I was holding onto was smooth on just about every edge which was making it hard to grip. Everything I touched felt smooth and slippery. I put my foot into a crack so I could step myself up and I felt it push down and get wedged in. F#@K! Instant internal panic! What if I slip? What if I fall back with my foot wedged there? What if I can’t get it out?
I let my belayer and my instructor know what had happened (communication is key), and attempted not to sound panicked. I’m sure I was convincing. With instruction that I was hardly paying attention to (thanks panic), I struggled my way free. TENSION!!! (Yeah, no problem calling that command out at that point) It notifies the belayer to create as much tension in the rope as possible to help hold your body weight. The word in this case carried many meanings.
I was instantly relieved and fatigued. The adrenaline rush was over. I asked to be lowered down. I got a lot higher than I had thought and my instructor gave me some pointers on how to remove a foot wedge. Then I belayed for Spidy. Belay On!
The rest of the day was great. Each of us climbed and belayed in different spots. Eventually, I DID get to the top of that ledge.