My fingers are rubbed raw by the sharp rock that they desperately cling to as I look up at the towering rock face above me.
My harness is loose around my thighs, tight at the waist, each of my feet cautiously perched on the slightest sliver of rock that juts out from the side of the wall.
My face is mere centimeters from the wall, my lips almost kissing the rock.
“Try a sidepull!” They yell from down below. “No, put your right foot where your right hand is!” I hear another voice.
These things are foreign to me. I don’t know the technical terms for the moves on the wall.
It is my very first time climbing outside.
I brought a harness, a helmet and my shoes. I don’t have an auto block or quick draws. I don’t have a rope. They quickly throw terms back and forth and my head moves between them as if I was were watching a ping-pong match, trying to mentally categorize them and remember to look them up when I get home.
Pushing off from my toes, I reach for a hold I see up to my right. Knowing I should use my legs but wanting to get to the top, I pull my whole body upward, one small movement closer to the anchors at the top.
I quickly continue up the wall, hearing my heavy heartbeat as I reach the end of the route but too distracted by the view of the valley of trees below me. Automatically, a smile creeps onto my face. “Thank you”, I whisper to the sturdy rock wall in front of me, taking deep breaths to slow my racing heart.
“Take!” I yell down to Jim, who is belaying me, and he slowly starts to lower me back to the ground.
I tell this to many people in the week following my first outdoor experience. They don’t seem nearly excited as I do. My eyes light up, enthusiasm dripping out of my voice about this sacred experience.
But it is an accomplishment. Maybe just as equally as climbing the wall itself is the accomplishment of finding the people to climb with.
I have been climbing inside for many months now. I don’t have anyone to go with outside – I tell myself week after week. Until one Sunday when I have an empty day. No one to spend it with and nothing particular to do other than my laundry.
Enough of this bullshit – I tell myself, this time almost in tears. Per a recommendation from a friend, I find a group in Tucson through MeetUp. Ready to send a message introducing myself, I look through the description one more time – experienced climbers it says – this is not an instructional group. I feel disappointment well up in my chest. I delete my message.
You know what, why the fuck not? I think. I have quite literally nothing to lose by sending a message and asking if I can join for the next weekend.
And Jim replies back rather quickly – of course! We’ll see you on Sunday at 8 am. Bring a helmet.
Rock climbing reminds me to be present in much the same way that meditation does. But, it’s easier for me to quiet my mind on the rock than sitting on a cushion. I can hear my breathing and feel my heart beat in my ears, but it is the swift, intentional movements that seem to calm me the most. My brain is not worrying about my next step in life, but rather is trying to find the best foot and hand hold.
When rock climbing, I am reminded that sometimes if I make a big reach, I’m going to fall. And then I’m going to have to try it again. I am reminded that when a move doesn’t work the way I thought it would, doing it the same way over and over usually doesn’t yield successful results. I am reminded that it is not something I can do alone – I need someone there belaying me. I am reminded that telling myself “I can’t” is a limiting and self-fulfilling belief. I am reminded that trying something new and knowing you’re not going to be good at it is really scary. But with practice comes skill and with skill comes confidence.
Thank you Jim, Bo, Casey and Paul – for everything you taught me that first day and all that you continue to teach me about navigating the rock wall.