An Adventure – Learning to Climb – Part The First

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.

30 responses to “An Adventure – Learning to Climb – Part The First

  1. Wow! I have a tiny fear of heights and no mountains to climb anywhere near where I live, so I’ll do my rock climbing vicariously through you. Nice song choice – my favorite band when Led Zeppelin isn’t.


  2. My brother is an avid climber. Indoors, outdoors, show him a rock and he’ll climb it! He took me to The Grampians ( 20 odd years ago – I’ll never forget that feeling of accomplishment. Nothing like it… well maybe the abseil back down πŸ˜‰

    Great music pick today! Pink Floyd are in a class of their own.


    • Very cool. My girl and I can be walking or driving anywhere, and I’ll see a building or outcropping and just say Yeah, I can climb that.
      Climbing is too much fun. Glad you were able to try it.

      And if abseiling is like rappelling, I don’t enjoy that near as much!


  3. Hi,
    Sounds like you had a heap of fun. I wouldn’t be game to even try it, good on you. I can see New adventures waiting in the future. πŸ™‚


    • Magsx2, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It really is another world of just you and the rock, with nothing else.
      If you go with someone who is good and you trust, outdoor climbing is totally worth it.


  4. I am BEYOND jealous. I used to climb the Adirondacks all the time before I had kids. Now my kids climb the White Mountains. Without me. Sniffle.


    • You have to get out there. I’ve been through the White Mountains, but never climbed there.
      I’m worried I might be getting too out of shape to go again. Last time I went, I had to find a second path up the route because my ass literally wouldn’t fit through the crack I was supposed to navigate.
      I ask you, where else do you get to find things like that out about yourself?


  5. The best part is being stuck on a rock face, looking down towards your death, not knowing the best way out, and realizing you could have avoided the situation completely. And then your friend yells “Swan dive!”


  6. I once went rappelling- abseiling? in 7th grade. Off the gym roof. I was scared. Oh wait – I did it again being all I could be, kinda anyways – so you are more in to the challenge of going up than down? I never looked at it as a difference ..I mean if you go up you have to come down – .so people that enjoy rappelling go up to focus on coming down – and the climbers focus on going up with coming down as just something that needs to be done…?? Ok beside the point – I think you could talk me into giving it a try just by your excitement clearly evident in your delivery. I might end up all tangled up or hanging around precariously but your exuberance is quite convincing. – I can see it. Hey like the opening scene in Mission Impossible 53 (I don’t know which one 😎 ) When he is climbing the cliff? Very cool. I am intrigued and kinda giddy πŸ™‚


  7. You’re not only El Guapo, but you’re El Brave-O I could never do that. I think I’m afraid of heights.


    • Maybe not El Brave-O. Perhaps El Slightly-Mad-and-Vaguely-Suicidal-o…
      It was partly a fear of heights that pushed me that last bit to commit to going.
      Thanks for coming by, Lafemmeroar!


  8. Awesome job … and having fun too … but probably not my thing. Thanks for sharing the pics too.


  9. It really sounds like fun and I have a feeling you’re going to be climbing alot from here on in. It actually sounds like one of the most exhilerating things you can do without having skis attached to the bottoms of your feet. And if it starts getting boring you could always rock climb while wearing skis. Just a thought . . .


    • I’ve tried that. And found the best way to justify resurfacing my skis is to scrape the bottoms off with exposed rock
      I’m not sayin it ain’t fun. Just expensive.
      Guess that’s why they make rentals!


  10. pursuitofhappieness

    You are one brave soul πŸ™‚ Way to go!!


  11. Reading this post, water droplets covered my palms and feet!! You know what’s the funny thing … I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I’m going to do it … someday! πŸ™‚


    • I’d go with you right now, except we’d probably end up ice climbing. And believe it or not, ice climbing is even beyond my limit.

      Unless someone can persuade me otherwise?


  12. Looks like you had a great time! Looking forward to reading more!


  13. Whoa. impressive. Hell I need repelling gear just to navigate the learning curve developed over years of dabbling in romantic endeavors. Hmmm could also be known as rock climbing. Ever spoken to my Neanderthal last ex-husband?
    Good work El Guapo!


    • Thanks, Rachael. I’m always surprised when stuff like this ends up being useful for dealing with the real world too.
      Just remember, a climbing rope is very strong, and excellent for tying people down until you have time to deal with them…


  14. therecoveringbrit

    Wow, I too will be doing this vicariously through you! I have to say though, that I did once visit a local indoor climbing wall with a friend. I actually had fun there, although it was way out of my comfort zone of things to do. Kind of glad I could mark it off my bucket list at least! I was quite proud of myself for even doing it since it really is out of my comfort zone.


  15. Pingback: An Adventure – Learning to Climb – Part The Second | Guapola

Ahem *best Ricky Ricardo voice* Babble-OOOoooo!!!

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