In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Rock climb: my turn

Rock climbing is bizarre. What climbers think are good handholds and footholds would not seem like any such thing to the general populace. What climbers think are marginal, but useful, handholds and footholds wouldn’t even be noticed by anyone else! This was a big adjustment. I had to alter my perception to see these things. One of the footholds at about waist-high to the ground was the size of a row of four or five postage stamps. Small stamps. It was angled downward at perhaps 30°. Brad explained this was an excellent place to put your foot. You could support all your weight on such a find.

Part of the reason is the shoes. They’re made of a rubbery material, and are very thin. The sole is barely thicker than the uppers. And they’re tight! Brad wears climbing shoes two sizes smaller than his regular shoes. If you tried to support your weight on a thin long ridge a half-inch wide with a regular shoe, it would probably roll off the edge because a regular shoe is not nearly as grippy, and it’s very loose in comparison.

Brad brought a pair of shoes for me. They were two sizes smaller than my regular shoes. I couldn’t believe I got into them. Then he told me that he can wear them too, but they’re not comfortable. They’re 3.5 sizes smaller than his regular shoes!

He showed me how to tie the rope to my harness. This was good to know, but I’m glad he did it. He looked at me and said, “Ready?” I paused, and nodded.

Route 2 is odd in that the very start is difficult and the very end is difficult. The middle portion is far easier. I had a bit of trouble with the start because I wasn’t seeing places I could use to stand and hold. I did get on my way eventually. I had to stop a few times, calling my intention to Brad. I was climbing! It made me nervous at times so I certainly did not rush. I steeled myself to continue during these breaks. And continue I did. A handhold here and a foothold there, I continued up and up.

I make no claim to not being strange. No claim at all. I’m up there 8 metres in the air, looking along the rock face, wondering what the hell I’m doing. But a moment later, Brad calls up to me suggesting a place I might put my foot next. I turn my head and look back down at him to answer. I’m not entirely comfortable there, but I can look down with absolutely no additional fear or anxiety. I still don’t understand why.

Once I made it past the first 3 metres, it was far easier. I still took the odd moment to stop. I needed to tell myself that I was going to do this. I wasn’t going to go back down before reaching the top. I also stopped to just take in what I was doing. I like to sometimes stop and just feel what all my senses are sending to my brain. It makes for a moment of greater clarity.

IMG_5553.CR2: 30D, EF 17-40mm 1:4L @ 17mm, 1/400, f/8, 400 ISOI continued upwards to a ledge very near to the top. You can’t pull out a chair and relax, but it’s perfectly flat and about ten centimetres square, in area. Huge for the circumstances.

To the right is a photo of Brad rappelling, taken from the bottom of the rock. See the small black triangle in the rock just to the right of his feet? That’s the top of the little ledge I described. The bottom is about the same size and about a half meter below it.

I made it up to there, and took a break standing on the small ledge. Looking around, I was in trouble. Putting my hands as high up the rock surface as I could reach, I couldn’t grab the next handhold. The places where I could put my feet seemed to require a bit of a leap of faith on my part. I needed to push off, and grab the next handhold. If I slipped back down, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get my feet back where they were. I’d fall until the rope caught me. I must’ve been there for five minutes trying different things. I did not want to make a jump.

Brad called up that it would be a good time to try something we’d talked about earlier. Often times, climbers will need a break, or to get a better view of the rock around them. The easiest way to get this is to have the belayer take up all the slack, and for the climber to hang his/her behind backwards and hold on to the rope. So imagine you’re 13 metres up, held by a rope with your torso roughly vertical, but a metre away from the rock face, and your feet planted on the rock. You’re away from the rock so you can see it better, and you’re exerting no effort so you can take a break. This is also a big step toward the stance used for rappelling.

Brad wanted me to try this. I failed. I could hold on to the rope rather than the rock. I could let go of the rock, and brace myself with my feet. But I could not push my torso away from the rock face with my legs. I just could not make myself do it. I suspect his suggestion came them both because I needed a distraction because I was getting a little frenzied, and also in case I would have to descend without making the top.

I got back onto the ledge. I continued to find a foothold that was not there. A climber on the adjacent climb tried to give me suggestions. Nothing worked. I was up there on that ledge for another five minutes. I called to Brad that I needed to come down.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the half of the first-time climbers Brad brought out who didn’t make it to the top almost all stopped exactly where I was. It was just a metre or two away from the top. So close! I half-noticed my left leg was shaking. I don’t clearly remember what happened next. I don’t mean to be all weird about it, but I seriously do not recall. What happened was despite my having told Brad I’d be coming down, I looked up again. I don’t know what footholds I used but I pushed myself up, caught the handhold, and crawled over the edge.

I made it! I don’t know how, but I did it.

I undid the rope tied to my harness, pulled up a length, looped it, called “Rope!” and tossed it over the edge.

As I walked back down, I noticed my feet were absolutely killing me. I had to get down there and take the shoes off. My feet felt like they were in a vice. Once I got back to the base, I took inventory of how I felt and I was a mess. I was spent. I had scratches on my legs, including one on my ankle that was bleeding. I was drenched in sweat. I think the sun got to me too because I felt light-headed. I drank some water and noticed the litre I brought was very nearly gone. Brad offered to share his, but I had my fill. My hands hurt. I have no calluses and the rock really did a number on them.

I quietly asked Brad if he’d mind if I didn’t climb again. He said of course he didn’t mind. He climbed twice more and it started to rain during his second ascent. At that point, we packed everything up and headed back down the hill. The rain made the rocks slippery and I managed to slip, and fall hard on my behind. I broke my fall with my hands, but this made me feel like I’d broken my hands.

By the time we got back to the truck, the rain was gone.

IMG_5570.CR2: 30D, EF 17-40mm 1:4L @ 19mm, 1/320, f/8, 100 ISO

On the way home, I did something else I had never done before. I ate poutine.

Fabulous day. Fabulous.


Rock climb: the day arrives


Polite dance song


  1. Dee

    Wow, that’s great how you implemented your plan of action so quickly, Rick! Great pictures. Again, very inspirational.

  2. Jonathan

    What what what what? What’s a poutine?

    ha ha

    Can’t believe you’ve never had it. What could be better than yummy chips? What could be better than yummy gravy? What could be better than yummy cheese curds? I know put them all together!! woo woo!

    ps the what what stuff is from Kyle’s mom on Southpark, aren’t you glad I said poutine and didn’t say “rimjob” like she does.…. oops

  3. Brent

    That was great to read, it was like being there! I have to say I am proud of you for taking on the challenge and making it to the top. I hope you go again soon.

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