I’ve taken up climbing. And not the corporate ladder style.
After an introductory class in the climbing gym, I headed outdoors. First climbing sport routes, then mountaineering with some ice climbing, onto multi-pitch climbing and so on. I’ve been fortunate to have had many good climbing experiences in a relatively short time, especially for someone living in mountain-less Edmonton. However, after a one year accelerated program of learning, I must confess:
- Jamming and twisting your feet, which are equally jammed into tightly fitted climbing shoes, into mountain cracks and then using that vise-like leverage to hoist your body weight up to the next hand or foot hold will never, ever be a positive experience, no matter how experienced I become.
- There’s a lot of jargon and vocabulary in climbing. Prusik. Webbing. Cams. Munter hitch. Trad climbing vs. sport climbing vs. cragging vs. mountaineering. Quickdraw. Whipper. Jug. And it goes on. Am I learning a new language or a new sport?
- Learning the different knots taxes this spatially challenged mind. I have laser, slow-motion focus every time I tie a figure eight knot (your climbing life source). I question whether or not I will ever learn how to tie all the other knots to graduate to the next level.
- Wind. It is my kryptonite. It always has been. On land. On sea. And now, on mountain tops. My big brain knows the wind will probably never blow me off a mountain. However, in that moment when the wind picks up (and it picks up pretty damn quick and forcefully when you are many, many feet up), my superpowers begin to drain and I slowly inch towards being gripped….
- On the subject of gripped, I must confess I’ve been “gripped” a few times in the last year. Gripped in the climbing community means, “scared”. I love that climbers collectively decided that they didn’t want to cry out, “I’m scared!” but instead came up with a term that allows you to look cool even though you are scared shitless. I’ve managed to work through my gripped moments by shedding a tear or two, talking myself out of the hole my mind has created and soldiering on. But there was one time, halfway up The Chief in Squamish, where I was textbook gripped. Exposed. Fierce winds. Precarious crack to traverse. Downward view all the way down the mountain right into town. I was positive I was going die. Not a shiny moment for me. But I have reconciled that occasionally being gripped means you’re challenging yourself. Shouldn’t you always been challenging yourself, no matter the sport or pursuit? So go ahead, get gripped.
- Crampons. The spikes you strap onto your boots to allow you to grip ice or snow and climb up vertical ice or walk across a glacier. Frickin’ awesome and super sexy. I never thought I’d say this, but high heels, you’ve met your match.
- Trust the equipment. You hear this a lot when you start climbing and after a year, I know it to be true. But I would add that equipment can only be trusted when the people using it are trustworthy. And from what I have seen of other groups climbing around me, there is a lot of sketch out there.
- I love how climbing engages every part of me. Not just the physical, athletic aspect of the sport, because it is a good workout. What I like more is the fact that when you are climbing, your mind leaves everything else behind. There is no time for work issues, family drama or solving the world’s problems. Your mind and your whole being is focused on finding a place for one foot and hand after the other. It’s kinda like a runner’s high, climber style.
- Does anyone’s ass look good in a harness???
- I have climbed for a year and see photos of very good climbers virtually hanging upside down on some rock face and I still have no idea how they do it.
- In any sport, nothing comes close to learning from professionals. I’ve had the good fortune to learn from two different professional guides – Matt and Jeremy. If you are thinking of getting into climbing, or even if you are experienced, a qualified professional guide can up your confidence and take your game to the next level.
- I am continually surprised by the number of climbers that do not wear helmets. I’ve read the debate but every time I see someone helmet-less (including professional climbers), I can’t help but think, isn’t your melon worth it?
- When you are high up, amongst the imposing rock, the views are incredible and often breath taking. But what I love more are the little pockets of beauty you stumble upon. A wee grove of stonecrop, shaped like a heart. An alpine flower. Fossils & crystals in the rock. In those moments you realize that climbing gives you beauty and a perspective few experience or share.
- The gear, the route, the weather. All important factors when you climb. But the most important factor in having fun, climbing high and staying safe when you are a beginner climber? A good climbing partner. Someone who is encouraging, patient, confident and observant. My climbing partner has made all the difference. He’s my rock star.