It wasn’t on my bucket list. In fact, it wasn’t anything I’d even contemplated doing. I’ll take photos of mountains “because they are there,” but I have no interest in climbing them. But climbing is a passion of my daughter and her boyfriend, and they practice every Monday night on the rock wall at the local rec center.
After declining multiple invitations to join them, I accepted last Monday. Josh was waiting for me at the desk. He showed me the harness I would be wearing and taught me how to work the locking carabiner that would hold the rope that would keep me from falling off the wall.
He went on to explain to me that he would “belay,” which meant he would keep tension on the rope at all times so if I slipped I wouldn’t fall very far. He showed me the belay device, a complicated system that the rope was threaded through to ensure tension. As I climbed, he would keep the rope taut. When he let me down he would do so gradually.
In his best Cyndi Lauper, he crooned
If you fall I will catch you, I’m be-lay-ing
Climb after climb
Climb after climb
We both laughed. He taught me the communication between climber and belayer. “On belay?” I asked him. “Belay on,” he replied per the script. “Climbing,” I said. “Climb on,” he replied, again per the script. Then I started up. He told me that I should use my arms to keep myself on the wall and use my legs to advance up the wall. Easier said than done.
It was time to face my biggest fear – coming down. I had only climbed a few feet when I asked Josh to let me down. I explained that I just needed to know what it felt like. He obliged. It was pretty easy. I relaxed a bit.
He had one of the staff members belay me the second time up so he could climb alongside me. As we climbed together, he pointed out the best hand and footholds. I made it past the halfway point before I got tired. I hadn’t listened. I had exhausted my limited upper body strength pulling myself up.
By the time I’d come down the second time, my daughter had arrived. She asked if I would belay her climb – with Josh helping, of course. I learned the technique – pull the rope, move the rope hand below the securing hand, slide the securing hand up, move the rope hand back, repeat as needed. Josh looked over my shoulder, but I did it. I got Lisa to the top and back down again.
As I watched the others climbing, I observed that it would be OK to let go of the wall if I didn’t like where my hands and feet were placed. I wouldn’t fall. I saw that the climbers had complete faith in the rope and belay system. And I realized that I had to come back. I had to make it to the top.
Next time – to the top!