Brad suggested we leave his place by 8:30 am to make sure we reach the climb by 9:30 am. I didn’t know why he wanted to leave so early, but I quickly agreed because he’s doing me the favour. I ran my Sunday morning on my regular work routine. Up at 7:30 and and out the door between 8:00 am and 8:10 am.
It turns out that Brad isn’t one of those weirdo morning people. Rather, people wanting to climb seem to arrive around 10:00 am. The way they work it is ‘first come, first served’ and you keep the climb for as long as you want to use it. Get there late and you either have to wait for who knows how long, go to another site entirely, or admit defeat and leave.
I arrived at Brad’s place at 8:20 am, the early end of the window I gave for my arrival time. He called me a keener! I transferred my stuff to his truck and we were off. My contribution was pitiful. My camera, a shoulder pack with two lenses, sun screen, two peanut butter sandwiches, my wallet, keys, and iPod. In comparison, his looked like a full military pack, with a giant rope as a bonus.
We got there quickly enough, after a quick stop at Tim Hortons. Parking is at the Luskville Falls. There was a 20-30 minute hike required to get from the parking lot to the climb however. It’s also not the type of park stroll you’ll take with your sweet aunt Jane. I was sweating like a bastard when we arrived at the climb. I looked down and saw the first signs of sweat saturating my shirt. And I’d just arrived at the site!
We dropped out stuff at the base of the rock to stake out claim. We took Route B, a climb rated at 5.4, that’s one of the climbs at the North Wall, which is part of Western Cwm. I had to look this up. It’s me, remember? ‘Cwm’ is is Welsh for ‘small valley,’ and is pronounced ‘coom.’ Cool.
I looked at the rock face and it didn’t seem so bad. High? Yes. But I could do this. I was pleased. It looked higher than 15 metres though. We walked around the side and up to the top of the climb to secure the rope to the anchors. And of course, when I say ‘we’ in regards to setting things up, I mean Brad.
I think he’d make a terrific instructor because although he did all the work, be explained everything he did and answered all of my questions the whole time. I’m leaving out a lot of the instruction time, but believe me, there was a lot of it! I like to understand things and I appreciate when the person explaining takes my questions seriously. Brad certainly did.
A brief note about the previous photo. Looking at it, you may think I mis-typed that the climb was 15 metres because it looks more like 150 metres. It’s not, I assure you! The Western Cwm is well above the ground level, which also goes toward explaining why I got so tired hiking there. The Gatineau Hills are called hills for a reason. Only my height above the rock base bothered me. The total height above the surrounding ground level just provided a beautiful view. No wonder Brad doesn’t like climbing gyms during the summer!
He earlier suggested I might want to rappel down after climbing up. It’s the quickest way down, and a lot of fun too. I was a bit hesitant, but didn’t dismiss the idea. When we reached the top of the climb, I did dismiss the idea. Looking up at it was fine. Looking down was not. I felt the familiar height-related anxiety and I slowly moved away from the edge, trying not to be too obvious about it. What had I gotten myself into?
So there I am, wondering if I can do this rock climbing thing at all. Beyond saying that I would not be rappelling down, I said nothing. So what does Brad do? Connects the rope to his belay device, backs to the edge, notices me taking the photo to the right, waits for me to finish, then leans backwards over the edge, pushes off with his feet, and drops away, out of my view.
Yea, not helping, Brad!
I walked down, and he showed me how I would belay for him when he climbed. Happily, he would go first so I could see.
The reason top-climbing (climbing when the rope is already anchored at the top) is not nearly as dangerous as people might think is because it’s a two person operation. The climber’s rope goes up to the anchor at the top, though a ring or carabiner, then down to the person belaying them. This person, standing at the bottom of the climb, takes up the slack in the rope as the climber ascends. If the climber were to fall, and the person belaying is doing their job, the climber would only fall the distance the rope would stretch under the increased load. For our climb, this was perhaps a foot.
Brad would have fallen more than a foot because freaking spiderman was moving up the rock faster than I could take up the slack. I kept up, but didn’t manage to keep nearly as much tension in the rope as he did with me. And my technique was a disaster. Happily, he didn’t fall.
He reached the top, prepared the rope for rappelling, and was back down in no time. The whole process took maybe four minutes. I know he could’ve done it quicker, too.
Then it was my turn.