Today’s Music: Pink Floyd – Learning to Fly
Quick note – All Rock Face pictures copied from Mountain Project
Walking in for an opening shift at the restaurant one day, the conversation went like this:
Me (walking in): Hi Fred. Good weekend?
Fred (the bartender, doing his opening tasks): Real good. Went Rock Climbing.
Me (stopping): Sorry – what’s that again?
Fred: I went climbing up by New Paltz.
Me: You’re kidding.
Fred: No, It was great.
Me: You’re kidding.
Fred. No. At the Shawangunks
Me: You’re kidding
Fred (beginning to back away): We had a great time.
Me (bug-eyed): Wow!
Fred (smiling again) You want to go next time?
That’s all it took.
So two weeks later, we piled into Fred’s pickup and headed up to New Paltz. After a quick stop at Rock and Snow to rent my climbing gear, we hit the cliffs.
Conquering the cliff isn't the point. But it sure is fun.
Fred did an excellent job explaining the gear – Harness, shoes, carabiner, ATC (Air Traffic Controller – what your partner uses to prevent you from becoming jelly when you come off the cliff face).
Guys, the harness won't look good or feel good. The ATC will prevent unscheduled landings.
We get to the Gunks and hike up to the face. Fred gives me a “hi-how-ya-doin” on the basics of climbing, and then he shimmies up Dirty Chimney.
A nice simple shimmy up the chimney.
I follow. It’s like scrambling up a very steep hill, using your hands and feet. And you know what? It’s pretty damn cool.
So we move on to Classic – a 5.6.
(Climb difficulty is ranked as “5.x.” 5.0 – 5.1 is like Dirty Chimney – easy, some scrambling. 5.14 is the most difficult rank – like hanging upside down from a fingernail. Just one.)
It has all the elements of a classic climb, including the short roof by the climber.
Up we go. Fred climbs and places “pro” – protection. These are the bits that anchor our climbing rope to the cliff. I stand at the bottom, playing out the rope and making sure he has enough slack to move, but not so much that he’ll hit ground if he falls. He gets to the top and secures himself. It’s my turn.
I double and triple check that I’m tied in correctly. And off I go.
Here is the approach to climbing I’ve learned: Make sure your security is bulletproof. Make sure the rope anchors are bulletproof. Make sure your harness and atc are bulletproof.
Then climb like they aren’t there.
I put my hand on the face and find a spot for my foot. “Climbing” I yell up to Fred as I shift my weight, my other foot leaving the dirt floor. I’M CLIMBING!
I find little nubs of granite – think of pressing your hand down on a table dusted with sprinkles – that shouldn’t be big enough to hold a fly. But they’re big enough to support my weight as I lean into the cliff to lift my foot.
The tacky rubber on my shoes is enough to grab tiny outcroppings of rock, or even better, to do a “smear”.
A smear is splaying your fingers out against the rock, and pressing your upturned toes as hard as you can against it. Since climbing shoe rubber is very soft, it will grab the uneven surface of the rock.
If you’re on anything less than a 90 degree vertical, you should hold.
The problem is, the only way to test it is to put all your weight on it. Kind of a Pass/Fail thing. And I didn’t believe it would work until it did.
I make the first few moves with no problem. I’m about 6′ tall, so I can reach from hold to hold. I learn to extend my arms and support my weight by my skeleton as opposed to my muscles, which lets me last longer before getting tired.
I make it up, cleaning as I go. See, the rope is clipped into the protection, and I’m clipped into the rope. When my clip gets to the rope clip, I have to take the rope out. I also pull out the piece of protection that anchored the rope. That’s cleaning.
Don’t worry, the person on belaying (holding the rope in case you fall) is anchored in, and the rope anchors along the way aren’t necessary anymore.
So I make it up my first real pitch and as my big stupid grinning head pops over the small roof, Fred is grinning back at me just as hard.
“Fun, right?”, he asks nodding his head.
A loud belly laugh is my only answer.
That’s the what. The Why will be posted soon.