Climb time

By Jim T. Ryan, Hooligan-in-Chief

Mandey on her favorite sloped wall.

I’ve been much more enthusiastic about climbing over the past year or so. Two weeks ago, I got to do a couple hours of climbing on indoor walls at the Climbnasium in Cumberland County, Pa.

I was impressed with the facility, but even more so with my wife’s first foray onto the rocks. She completed one wall twice and made it at least half or two-thirds the way up every other one she attempted. Incredible first climb for someone who has a paralyzing fear of heights.

I found that my fear of climbing new heights has all but evaporated. When I was younger, I got half the way up a wall and would freeze for a few minutes. But not this time. Every wall was straight up, taking a break about two-thirds the way for a breather, a look around at the rocks and down at Mandey belaying me. Another skill she learned quickly and performed correctly for a first-timer.

Boulder(ing), Pa.

Have to work up to this one.

Mandey and I scurried up the first wall fairly easily. I was touching the roof of the Climbnasium barn in no time. The arms were strong. And we looked over the facilities before deciding on a second wall with a slight incline for the first two-thirds. I scrambled up the wall quite easily, but the final third can present some good challenges if you aim to use some of the smaller holds. Mandey, too, conquered this on her first try.

That’s when we decided to retrieve my cell phone and take some pictures in the bouldering room so we wouldn’t have to worry about ropes.

I had a knack for working my way around the main wall, even when I chose the smaller holds. That convinced me that I could try my hand at the overhang boulder wall. I was able to hold myself up for a minute, but I wasn’t yet coordinated enough to work my way up the cliff. I felt just a little awkward, like a tadpole taken from the water. It might be his ultimate environment, but he’s just not ready yet.

Bouldering room wall work.

I knew I’d have to start with more gentle angles and work my way to the overhangs. But that was also another chance for Mandey and I to see the rest of Climbnasium’s taller walls that begin in the old barn’s lower level.

I like that room immensely as it provided longer, more complex challenges that mimicked natural cliffs. To be honest, the Climbnasium’s walls offer a good diversity that can be found in nature. It makes it fun, a great work out and offers me a greater challenge to shoot for some of the more complex balancing acts on the marked routes. Funny ass names for some of the routes too. I chuckled at more than one. I’ll keep track of those I conquer here from time to time.

Long Way Down

“Belly Cave” wall, my favorite of the day.

I started up the face, placing the toe-crushing climbing shoes onto some small holds, but the solid hand holds gave me great leverage. Slowly the pitch grew a belly before sloping back to an incline. But I wasn’t there yet.

Must get over…where’s that hand hold? I thought. There it is, but all my weight is backwards and I need to move the left foot now to continue balancing. Now, now, now! 

Got it. Up we go. Heave with the arms. Pull and push. Keep going, buddy. No rest yet. Feet are still on unstable ground…There you go. Just go a few more holds and you can rest below the cave overhang. That’s it. Nice and easy. One more…rest.

Looking down, I didn’t know how I could come so far in such a short time. Only the homestretch remained. Certainly, I had to stretch out to hit some of the holds over the bulge and the incline had some stretches too. There’s a lot more stretching when you’re a shorter climber. But it gives you satisfaction to conquer a wall knowing you had to extend you limbs to new limits to do it.

But I stretched some more to reach the top. I went on to conquer another wall on the first level, a straight climb but slightly longer than the Belly Cave.

Down climb

Mandey wore down just a little sooner than me, in part because of a blister that developed on her hand. So I said I wanted to try one more route back on the first wall of the day. She agreed to belay once more, despite the tear in her skin. Tough as nails she is.

I couldn’t say my last attempt matched the effort, but I got to a point I knew I was going to fall. My grip was slipping on the rock nubs and I had to switch hands before I could reach for the next. I was spent. It wasn’t going to happen. I could feel the grip in my right hand slipping even as I contemplated taking my weight off the left.

“Hold me!” I shouted down to Mandey.

“I have you,” she replied. And I put my weight back on the rope. Soon I was swinging out into mid-air bouncing down the wall, over the beginning ledge and onto my knees on the Climbnasium floor. We called it a day, but what a day it was.

A day later, while at the outdoor store buying camping supplies for our family trip to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, I bought another locking carabiner and a large standard one. I was jazzed again about slowly buying my climbing equipment. Even if I have to do it piece by piece, $20 and $50 at a time. That’s reasonable. In several months I’ll have everything but the rope.

When we got to Shenandoah on Friday, everywhere I looked, I just saw awesome mountains and thought: I could climb that cliff…would be fun to rappel off that waterfall. 

I’ll have to go back there soon with that intent.

The best part of our day climb was sharing with my wife an experience that moves me. Despite her apprehensions about dangerous sport, she performed beautifully. And since that day, she’s taken greater interest in my love of climbing, asking me questions about how you climb real mountains if you’re not top roped. She gasped when I told her you’ll probably fall 10 feet or more if you fall before placing the next cam or chock (safety devices you shove into wall cracks to link you to the rocks).

I don’t think my assurances about equipment, skill and caution really helped her apprehension, but I love her for taking an interest in my outdoor sports.

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