Don’t look, Mom. My mom doesn’t relish my rock climbing obsession. Moms worry. She's admitted to not having time to read my blog, so I hope that this post is no exception. I also hope you technical rock climber types will skip this, as my terminology and descriptions will offend your sense of rock climbing propriety. See top left … “Next Blog>>.”
For the rest of you, a confession. I love getting high. It happened for the first time last summer in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I went to watch rock climbing and I got roped in, literally. The rush of getting to the top was incomparable. I had to do it again. And again. And … yeah, again.
With the exception of a couple outdoor climbs last summer, most of my early attempts at “getting high” were at the indoor climbing gym, several at the insane hour of 6 am. Among the highlights, besides climbing: developing more defined and stronger muscles in my arms and legs, not to mention all the girl chatter with my gal pal climbing partners, and making so many new friends. Oh ... and there was a Groupon to Momentum, the gym where I climb. Anything with a Groupon has to be a good time.
Fast forward. Eight months, a climbing gym membership, and pair of fit-like-a-glove climbing shoes later I found myself climbing outdoors again. Through a friend, my climbing partner, Rachel, and I learned of a group going to Little Cottonwood Canyon for a climb in the sunny if not balmy early afternoon in March.
We exchanged names and then the leader of the group did a quick equipment and experience assessment. We split up into groups and hiked to the start of our climbing routes. Rachel and I asked to go with the leader of the group to The Schoolroom, a five pitch route.
The “long crack.” The first pitch (section) was doable. It was either the second or third pitch, and I must admit I don’t recall which, when reached what I affectionately dub the “long crack.” The “long crack” was a climbing obstacle course unlike anything I’d attempted outdoors or in the climbing gym: few holds, slippery rock, and one long, annoying crack. My foot kept getting jammed in the “long crack.” Grrrrrrrrrrrrr. Double grrrrrrrrrrrr.
The f-bomb. One step up … then dropping below where I started … I felt excrutiating pain from slamming my foot into the crack and my knees against granite. I didn’t’ know how to create any forward and upward motion on slippery rock. Then I slipped. F-bomb. Rachel gasped.
I used to swear much more than I do nowadays. Corporate America has polished me in that way, if no other. “Did I really hear you say that?” Rachel nettled me from behind. I said it again. Ad infinitum.
Getting unstuck, my perennial life lesson. Ironically, or not, the “stuck” thing has been the bane of my existence. Stuck. Trapped. Ensnared. Baffled. All of the above. The contrast between being physically or mentally stuck is hardly distinguishable.
“I have no idea how to get out,” I said as I craned my neck up to where I needed to go. My brain kept mentally capsizing. At one point, Rachel said, “are you done?” “No!” I fired back. DNF. That acronym for “did not finish” is so not in my vocabulary for climbing or life.
Inchworm. Inches along the “long crack” seemed like miles. Up an inch, then another, and another. Like Confucious said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” And a climb of 700 feet or so begins or continues when you stop overthinking, pull yourself out of the crack, hold onto whatever you can find, or pretend there’s something to hold onto, and send. All of the sudden, the route wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was making it.
If there is anything rock climbing has taught me (and again), it’s to be where you are, not ten feet ahead and definitely not looking back. I have had to re-remember that rule yet again in climbing and in life. Once I completed the “long crack,” nothing else in the climb – which for us went above The Schoolroom to another route -- was as difficult. That is not to say the journey to the top was lacking in difficulty from my rather juvenile climbing perspective.
Baldness by belaying. Rappelling to the bottom was easier than I thought it would be, except I was last and had to wait for what seemed like forever. Another life lesson I'm learning: patience, in short supply lately. Once I finally began my descent, my long hair blew forward with the high wind. More than a few precious strands of hair ripped out of my head as they got sucked into the belay device on my way down the mountain. If I had had to rappel much longer, I’d have a mullet-like “do” on my left side. Note to self: ponytail. I'll never forget again.
Sweet landing. Once we reached the start of the route, we hugged our lead climber, threw on our jackets, gorged on trail bars and water, and chatted about our secret climber names. Not telling mine. Never. It’s perfect. **Smile.**
Special thanks to Rachel and my many other climbing friends for their love and encouragement.