Up against the wall...

I wasn't backed up against a wall. I wasn't backed into a corner. Nor was I left hanging. Never-the-less, I was up against the wall.

Make that a "rock climbing wall"!! 

If you'll remember, just a few short weeks ago, I was to go canyoneering (that would be rappelling -on a rope- down into slot canyons in Utah, near Zion National Park. However, on the day of my planned daring rope dangling drops deep into the narrow slot canyons, and during my "training" session, fear of falling, overly sensitive survival instincts, plus a healthy pinch of terror, led to my gracefully keeping my feet and body solidly on terra-firma. In other words, I chickened out.

As I said in that segment of my vacation story, I just wasn't up for the challenge of canyoneering - that day. I knew, for certain, that I WOULD find my nerve and at some point tackle that article on my bucket list. Next door neighbor Stephen, in his comment on that blog story offered to take me to a rock climbing gym once I got back home to Phoenix. And, about a week after my return home, Stephen again reminded me of his offer to go rock climbing with me at one of the climbing gyms in the area. Well, there was no backing out, since I had publicly written that I did intend to follow-up and get the practice I needed on a rock climbing wall. My hope was that, with practice on the ropes and climbing, that I would overcome my fears and be able to "let go" and descend down the face of a rock wall.

Ready to tackle the wall

Stephen followed up with a call on friday to have us set up a time to go out on this venture. Again, no backing out now (though the scaredy cat part of my overly active brain wanted to find an excuse NOT to go). 

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So, Sunday, 9/6 at 2 p.m. we met here at my place and off we went to AZ on the Rocks, in North Scottsdale. Aeni, Stephen's wife, also joined us. So our threesome, entered and found the place very, very busy. Who would have thought so darn many people were so into climbing walls. Hummm, maybe that's a metaphor for many people and their daily lives, getting so stressed out, that they are about to climb the walls… so they DO. Literally. Interesting thought, don't you think?

We were required to sign a lot of waivers- you know, about acknowledging risks, safety concerns, equipment and checking it's proper use, instruction, the hazards involved - including falling bodies - and all that other legalize stuff that says we won't sue them for any reason. Anyway, its all that verbage that just protects the business and puts the onus on the paying customers to be careful and pay attention. 

(Falling bodies??? What the heck??).

After watching the obligatory video explaining what we were about to experience, including proper use of the equipment, and the movements on handling the belay techniques, I started to wonder how I could possibly remember all those complicated steps so that I didn't end up being one of those "falling bodies". Belaying, as a side note, is the action of controlling the rope on both the ascents and descents. This is the responsibility of one of the persons, stationed on the ground, who controls the tautness and slack of the rope of the climber. I volunteered to learn the belay techniques first, and after numerous run throughs and practice, I felt that I had a "grasp" on it. (I'd better have a grasp, as either Stephen or Aeni would be depending on me to take up the slack on the rope). 

Learning how to correctly tie the knot on my rope.

I should mention, Stephen and Aeni have done rock wall climbing before, so they were a whole lot more comfortable with it than I.  But, with an instructor standing by, I got in position as Stephen was first to ascend the 40 foot wall. With some fumbling on my part and further encouragement and play by play instruction, I kept the rope taut for Stephen as he climbed the wall, grasping hand holds (actually FINGER holds) and foot holds, having to stretch and pull himself upward with each effort. At times, with a leg stretched up and outward, while trying to find a finger hold to hang onto, he kept on going up, up, up and me pulling the rope down, down down. At times, up to the wall, he'd feel with his feet or hands trying to find a toe hold and the next best finger hold so that he could pull himself up one bit at a time. But watching him as he climbed, made it seems relatively effortless. 

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After a few more attacks on the climbing, they asked if I was ready for my first climb. 

Yep, I'm ready.

The moment of truth.

Before ascending, the climber must also secure his end of the rope through a carabiner (like a link in a chain, but which opens to allow the rope through), which is attached to a hip harness and then knot the loose end of the rope onto itself. From there the climber simply climbs the wall. Well, not really SIMPLY, but getting ahold of  finger holds and toe holds on the wall to get yourself up the first few inches from the floor. Then it's a matter of locating the next best holds, both for your feet and hands and keep reaching up and placing your feet on the holds that will help propel yourself upward, little by little. Some of the holds are larger allowing for a much better grip. Some holds are mere bumps on the wall and, wearing the special wall climbing shoes, one must try to manage to keep that, literal, toe hold until he reaches for the next holds above. It does require some effort, but, at least on the beginner's wall, it was not as tiring as I thought it might be. 

Once I started up on my climb, I never looked down as I ascended. Nor did I allow myself to look up to the top. I stuck to the basics of just climbing and only as I neared to the top did I glance up. Remarkably, I felt very calm. I had little fear that I was going to loose my grip. And, for sure, I certainly didn't feel like I would be a "falling body".

Climbing, climbing, climbing - almost to the top of the wall.

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And wonder of wonders, I was quite quickly at the top. With Aeni belaying, I then had to descend. Being up 40 feet, but still gripping very, very tightly to the last hand hold, I slowly turned and peeked back down. OMG, that's a long ways down there! Stephen yells up,"Now come down, just let go, lean back and start down". WHAT? Let go of the last finger and foot holds and LET GO? Are you nuts?

That was another moment of truth/faith. I'd seen him do it. It looked easy and effortless. I had seen others also quickly dropping down, some practically skipping down from above, hop, skip, jump, hop, skip, jump and, behold, they were down to earth in a jiffy. With some hesitation on my part, and a brief pause, I did let go of the wall and leaned backward, and just hung there for a moment, or two allowing the rope's tautness to keep me from plummeting to the very well padded floor below. Not being fully relaxed, I did, however, keep my hands on the rope attached to my harness and descended. Once the descent began, and the fear of falling subsided, it was easier than falling off a log (or, in this case, off a wall). Though my feet were mostly on the wall as I made that first drop, I was thrilled with the experience of rappelling. 

Almost immediately, I made my second climb, and with each subsequent climb the fears fell away. I believe I only did about 4 climbs, but that was sufficient to have me hooked on climbing rock walls. It was a BLAST - more fun than a squirrel scampering along branches of a tree. Obviously it was fun for kids too, as there were many children who were fearlessly climbing the walls. 


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A self photo from another climb that day, with a headlights in my eyes kind of look.

Stephen, by far was the most adventurous, as he tackled some more "aggressive" climbs. For more advanced climbs, looking at the photos, one will see different colored tapes on the hand and foot holds. Those colors are the routes to follow to the top, and really are challenging. The higher the numbers on the tapes, the more complicated the climb. One of Stephen's climbs had him crawling along like Spider Man, underneath overhangs, then around corners and up to the top. 

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Aeni got in some great climbs, her last following the same or better than the  one I did. She, too has had experience with the sport, but burned her hands on her last climb. Ouch!

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My last climb was a moderately difficult one that required some contortionist maneuvers. As I neared the top on that one, perspiration was beading up on my head, hands and my shirt was starting to get damp. I hung out up there a bit longer that time, catching my breath, before then bouncing down the wall. 

Looking back to the day in Utah, when I felt stymied by the concept of rappelling, it now seems, after our afternoon of wall climbing, that I could have pretty easily overcome those fears and gone exploring down into the slot canyons. But, for whatever reason, THAT particular day just didn't feel right for me and I went with my instincts at the time.

Now, however, I have gained experience, and more importantly, confidence. As we left, I said I was ready to now go back to Utah and actually do some rappelling. But that probably will wait for a bit, until I find the time to go and hopefully have some others join me in that great adventure. Then I will be able to check off that item on my life's bucket list.

Thanks to Stephen and Aeni, I am now confident that I will be exploring down into remote slot canyons and savoring the adventure of it all. But first, I intend  going back to the climbing gym for more fun climbs.

Learning to overcome fears and obstacles in life is ongoing. Facing them head-on is always challenging. Taking time to assess and prepare for the challenges, to face the fears on an individual's own comfort level is very understandable. But the actual tackling of the situation and making the attempt to conquer fear is the ultimate test which can result in one's personal victory and triumph over adversity.

Who's ready to go canyoneering with me?


kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments