River hooligans on the rocks

By Jim T. Ryan, Hooligan-in-Chief

My growing collection of climbing gear.

My hands were sweaty. Beads of salty water ran into my eyes, nearly blinding me in the humid summer heat.

Hell, my fingers were sweating. I didn’t even know my fingers could sweat like that.

But that fleeting thought gave way as soon as I looked down. My head swooned and I pressed myself to the wall.

“Don’t look down!” the call came up from the person belaying me. “Just keep going! There’s a handhold above you!”

Why do they always say that? Don’t look down? Everyone looks down.

Every fiber of my muscles clung to the small rock edges and I could feel my grip slipping…and then it was gone and I was falling — wait! No I’m not! The rope caught me!

“You OK?” the counselor called up.

“Yeah, I’m OK.”

“Do you want to come down?”

“No! I’m going to the top,” I called back, dangling from the rope, my feet about 15 feet off the ground, my head about 20 feet. Just 10 more feet to the top. I could do this.

I re-affixed myself to the rock wall of the climbing and rappelling tower at Camp Ranachqua in the Ten Mile River Scout Camps, among the Catskill Mountains in Sullivan County, N.Y.

I was hooked. I scurried up the remaining 10 feet of the wall. It wouldn’t be the first time I fell from the rocks, but each time my fear of heights dissipated as I learned to put my trust in the person and rope holding me from slamming into the ground. I spent the rest of my summer on that wall as much as I could.

Later, my younger brother Michael and I stood at the top of the tower. A counselor made sure our rappel devices were correctly fitted and laced with the 10.2 mm climbing rope.

“Now, just lean back and slowly walk down the tower,” the counselor said.

Michael and I looked at each other, inched down over the edge of the tower wall.

“Race you to the bottom,” Michael said.

“You’re on,” I said, and to the horror of the camp counselor, my brother and I bounced away from the wall and allowed the rope to run freely through the figure-eight device.

We made it about half way down the wall in a single jump before the safety belayers at the bottom yanked on the ropes bringing us to an abrupt stop.

“What the hell?” we said, simultaneously.

Toadstool on the rocks.

“Watch your language!” a scout leader shouted up at us. We just laughed, and slowly bounced down the wall in minuscule 2-foot increments.

That summer, I was 15 and little did I know that my attachment to the wall would be part of what landed me as a canoe mate for a week-long high adventure trip down the Delaware River, (See above map) up the Neversink River — yes, UP it — into a deep dark cave under the Catskills and then up a rock cliff at the Shawangunk Ridge.

Today, my brother jumps out of airplanes for Uncle Sam with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Me, obviously I spend as much time on rocks, in forests and on rivers as I can between bouts of business journalism.

Even after many years away, it took very little to send me racing to the rope and harness again. And I found, the excitement had not diminished.

Today, I’m teaching my sons to be the next lot of wild-eyed Ryan boys, terrifying camp counselors and mothers¬†alike.

That’s just what we do.

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