29 August 2011
It was only my third day of rock climbing. I’d proved to myself already that I could reach the top of climbs graded 5.8* and lower. We were climbing in Slocan, a wall Carrie told me was “fun” and a good confidence builder. After failing to reach the top of 5.10 climbs the previous two climbing days, I needed to build some confidence.
I’d never climbed a wall so high. The routes used almost all of the 60 meter ropes, meaning the climbs were around 30 meters. I started on a couple 5.8s (doing one twice) and had a reasonably easy time reaching the top. I tackled a 5.9, which presented a bit more of a challenge, but got to the top without too much drama. Four climbs, all successful. I was pretty stoked.
The great thing about climbing in Slocan is that the wall is right at the lake. We dove in to cool off then played on the floating logs, trying to do yoga poses without falling in (I felt crow pose was my crowning achievement). We had time to do one more climb before leaving. Robert, who’s been climbing for many years, led a 5.10b. Carrie climbed it second while I watched on, taking mental notes. The crux of the climb (the most difficult part), was this small section in the middle that didn’t have much for holds and was in a corner.
Carrie struggled briefly at the crux, but got through it. Her struggling concerned me a little as she is an experienced climber, but I was keen to try it. I was brimming with confidence. When it came my turn I easily reached the crux, then hit the wall. I think knowing less can be better sometimes, because you end up doing what you need to do, without worrying if it’s the “right” or “wrong” thing to do. In this case, I was doing whatever it took to get through this.
I got stuck for long periods of time, feeling around above me for cracks to hold on to. My forearms were tiring, my toes getting sore from all the pressure of standing on tiny ledges. I yelled, I grunted, I swore at the wall. I fell. Of course, Carrie had me so I hung there for a few minutes, gathering myself and resting my muscles. I grabbed the wall again. I was still getting nowhere. At this point I kissed the wall, deciding to make peace with it instead of fighting it.
I slowly made progress again. As I neared the top of the crux I had a couple more moves to get over it, a lateral move that would get me to the other side of the rock where better holds were. I fell again. I gathered myself again. With a couple more grunts I got over it, and from there it was straight forward to the top. When I reached the top, I spread my arms wide and gave the wall a big bear hug, chest and cheek pressed right up against it. In that moment, I had nothing but love for that wall.
In the car, I reflected on the climb. It occurred to me that at no point during that climb did I ever have doubts about reaching the top. During my previous attempts at 5.10 climbs there always came a point where my mind said, “that’s it, you can’t do it, time to give up.” On this climb, that thought never occurred to me. My mind was always on “you’re getting to the top of this no matter what it takes” mode.
The four successful climbs earlier that day were a huge part, building up my confidence and making me feel like I could do anything. We stopped at the Cedar Creek Cafe in Winlaw on the way home for dinner. I deserved those fries.
*Rock climbing grades each route dependent on difficulty and danger. Class 5 means vertical or near-vertical. The 8 in 5.8 identifies the difficulty within class 5 grades. After 5.10 letters (a,b,c,d) are added as sub-grades (5.10 used to be the most difficult). According to Wikipedia, the most difficult climb is currently 5.15b.