Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Year of the Second Chance: Finally, Finally, Finally a Lead Climb

So, this is very, very bad.  I was so proud of my careful maintainance of my blog during the Year of 52 and the Year of the Challenge and the Year of Living in Jordan.  And then, as the British would say, it all went pear-shaped.  I thought I had a really great idea: the Year of the Second Chance.  But somehow, I've just done a really poor job, both in terms of moving towards my goals and in writing about them (and maybe those two deficiencies are connected?).  In any case, possibly the greatest irony of the Year of the Second Chance is that the Second Chance has just been given a second chance.  How great is that?  I am pleased to write that I have finally accomplished Goal Two. 
My first lead climb.  My friend and student Kyra is on Frosted Flake, the climb next to it top roping while awaiting her turn to lead climb, too.

Back in March I wrote a post detailing the plan for the year.  The basic idea was to take five really ambitious projects or goals I'd started in previous years and see them to completion (or at least the next level).  Each was to have a specific task or product that would signify that point.  The five goals were:
1. To run a marathon.  I am happy to report that I did it!  Completed the Burlington City Marathon in late May, 2013 and wrote all about it here.
2. To become a better rock climber. The next level point on this one was to do a lead climb.
3. To become a better ice skater. Being a better skater was to be marked by being able to skate a very short combination to a bit of music.
4. To finish the book on the Millennium Development Goals I began as a group project with my students. The product, obviously, would be the actual manuscript.
5. To become proficient in French. As demonstrated by conducting myself in French for a weekend in Montreal.

So, anyway, after the marathon, thinking about these projects, and especially keeping track of them, got away from me and might have stayed that way, except that good fortune, and in several cases, my students and Jon, have intervened. Rock climbing, the subject of this post, is a case in point. 

The thing about rock climbing is that it's a bit of a dilemma for me.  On the one hand, I really enjoy it.  Out of all the things I tried during my year of 52, I think it was my favorite, and it's certainly the one that I've introduced the most other newbies to. The conundrum comes from the fact that I don't have much natural aptitude for it, and this is compounded by the fact that I never even tried it till I was in my 40s.  All of this is a long-winded way of saying it's taken me a long, long time to get to the point of this lead climb, and there were some pretty great people along the way who encouraged me to keep going.

One of the best things I've done climbing-wise was to participate last Spring Break in the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program trip to southern Utah.  We had a great group, led by Eben Widlund from Saint Mike's and Andrea Charest, who co-owns our local climbing gym, Petra Cliffs. We camped for a week at a state campsite hit a number of area cliffs.  That trip was also my first time "mock leading". 
Eben Widlund and Andrea Charest, our leaders of the Utah Spring Break Trip.  Couldn't ask for a better pair of instructors -- they even cooked great camp food!
Climbing in an area called Soul Asylum.  Long climbs, but porous, slabby rock that was "sticky" for footholds and easy to hold with your hands.

Jess, an amazing SMC climber who is now a Wilderness Instructor, and I had the job of dumping our used water every night.  Now Jess and I and another instructor, Alex, staff Saint Mike's small climbing wall on Tuesday nights.
For those who haven't tried it (yet), there a number of different ways climbers have figured out to get up something.  There is free climbing that doesn't involve a rope at all and there is bouldering, which also doesn't use a rope, but only focuses on climbs that don't go very high up, but involve lots of tough moves and strength.  The easiest way to climb with a rope is to "top rope". This means that the rope is attached at the top of the climb, and the climber is tied to one end, and the belayer (who takes in the slack on the rope, usually from the bottom) is attached at the other end.  If the climber falls, she doesn't really fall, because the rope is holding her in place vertically.  A tougher type of climbing is "lead climbing".  Here a climber is not attached to the top, but instead brings the rope up as she goes, and hooks it into the cliff, either using bolts pre-placed in the rock (sport climbing) or by inserting special gear that is inserted to hold the rope in the cracks (trad climbing).  So, mock leading like I did in Utah is top roping, but bringing up a rope to practice clipping it into the bolts.

There's a pretty big difference between climbing indoors in a gym and outside, and I have been lucky to have some awesome partners working with me on both.  My two stalwart gym partners have been Jon, who had climbed a little before we started dating, and Amanda, my friend and former student who was one of my original teachers. There's also Kyra, a current student and Wilderness Instructor-in-training who's been climbing with me both indoors and out, and pushing us both to seize opportunities to learn new skills and try new challenges.  She's really great at anchor-setting, yet another skill you have to learn to climb outside, and she's very patient with the fact that I'm not.
Amanda is not only a great teacher and friend, she's also an amazing climber.  Jon and I always talk about the way it seems like she floats up a wall.  Here she is at Upper West Bolton in Vermont.

A couple weeks ago, Jon and I also joined Dan, a former student who was another of my regular teachers of all kinds of outdoor sports during my year of 52.  He met us on the other side of Lake Champlain, and took us for a spectacular day in the Adirondacks that included another big rock climbing first for me -- my first multi-pitch (that is basically climbing up more than one routes put together with a ledge (for belaying) in between).

In the morning of our Adirondack day we warmed up on some fun climbs,  I think the one Jon is doing was called Space Cowboy.

Jon and Dan loaded up with ropes as we get ready to head up the path at Chapel Pond for our first multi-pitch climb.

The fact that I had kicked up my climbing, both indoors and out in the last month or so re-ignited my interest in taking that next step to try a lead climb, and when Kyra pointed out that the Wilderness Program was running a day of sport climbing, we signed up and went.  And so, on a lovely October Saturday in Rumney, New Hampshire on a route called Peewee's Playhouse I finally did my first lead climb. 
Not exactly what I would have expected as a moment of Zen (especially because I managed to take a fall a couple minutes before and bark my shin pretty hard), but I was a pretty happy camper, I must say.

It was an easy route, and I still have lots and lots to learn.  But for me, it was an exciting chance to realize a goal, and be reminded that it's always better to start late, and if necessary go slow, than to be so daunted that you don't even try.

No comments:

Post a Comment