For years I’ve been bugging friends to go rock climbing. YEARS. On the surface it seems like a perfectly enjoyable activity. It’s like the days of climbing trees in the old schoolyard but with more skill (remember the days in the old schoolyard? We used to laugh a lot. I don’t know about you. A significant part of me hopes you laughed a little bit less, to make my childhood shine that little bit brighter). I did it back in high school but never really had the strength to body weight ratio to make a go of it. I had fun, did it with friends, but never really progressed beyond simple climbs. My enthusiasm waned and I gave it up. Over the years I grew up (physically and metaphorically) and started to really get into climbing things. In a bizarre turn, the more I grew up the less I regressed to a state of rapture over childlike activities. When I drank I often found myself atop structures, having pawed and clawed my way up. I began to relish the notion of climbing, as if projecting my dominance over these edifices as a way of metaphorically taking control over the helplessness they afflicted on my psyche as a minor. Too bad it couldn’t get me over the hurdle of rampant prolix.
The more I enjoyed climbing, the greater my urge to get out there and jump indoors. For climbing, that was. None of my friends were remotely interested though. It just wasn’t their thing, so I continued climbing playgrounds and lifeguard towers while under the influence. I hoped to find a partner who wanted to go climbing. Something we could do together. I’ve always wanted a physical activity to do in a relationship. Something to connect with my partner over. To share time while taxing our bodies, ending up messy puddles of fatigue on the ground. Nobody was into it. Somehow that image never held positive connotations in their mind. For some reason.
So it was a delight, this morning, when my lady friend announced she was going rock climbing this afternoon. Immediately I latched on to the idea (is that a nice way of saying “invited myself”?) and followed it through full steam ahead. When we got to the venue it looked massive. There were a ton of tracks, heaps of bouldering sections, bouncy floors, gymnastic rings and a curved ladder condemning the use of feet. I’d found my place. The staff, however, couldn’t be less helpful. Handing me a harness that was completely undone, they begrudgingly instructed me (after a prompt at each step) on how to put it on. Next came the liability check to see if I knew how to tie my knots and belay people. I told them I hadn’t climbed in about 13 years, that they’d have to show me how to do it and I’d be fine. No go. If I didn’t know how to do it, I couldn’t belay others this time. Okay, I asked, what if you teach me and I prove that I’ve learned how to do so? Still no go. I’d have to sign a blue form and have the others take responsibility for my belaying. My lady friend showed me how to tie the knot. I did it and proved I could tie it. Now if only she showed me how to belay? Still no go.
I get that they have a certain amount of liability, but how is someone gonna learn these skills without being shown? The answer was to take a $35, 3 hour intro session. Lessons learned included putting on a harness, tying the figure of eight knot and correctly belaying. 3 hours. 35 dollars. If this seems like a cattle-car cynically exploitative tactic to anyone else, I’m on your side. I get that people need to be safe, but is casual or recreational climbing not a thing? Looking at locations back home, these restrictions don’t apply. It’s also cheaper than it is here. $30 seems a bit steep for a casual climb, but maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, the rock climbing itself was a blast. Not knowing technique, I resorted to pure brute strength to pull myself up. Consequently at the end of a track I was totally gassed. My breath came in ragged gasps after speeding my way to the top. Leisure activity? Yeah, but it’s a tough one. Muscles already aching from physical work over the last few days, it was still outstanding having to force parts of my body that stay forever unused to kick into gear. As I ascended the difficulty levels it became apparent that skill was required. Those tiny little rocks were used as footholds, while the most efficient path was hidden in plain sight. Fingers trembling, I found the correct level of challenge in the 5.10- difficulty. It meant I needed to take a break or two to reconsider my course and I couldn’t rely on just pulling myself up on a font of enthusiasm. It helped that a member of our group was a former rock climbing teacher. Technique comes a lot easier when there’s someone willing to impart their knowledge. Unlike the staff and Kelis, he didn’t have to charge to do so. After 5 or so climbs, I was done, exhausted. The lady friend and I flopped down on the ground, messy puddles of fatigue. Mischief managed, my friends. Mischief managed.