“Nervously.” This term is most often used describe the manner in which someone bites their fingernails or waits outside of an operating room in a hospital, but in my case it was a perfect adverb for the way I was sitting outside of the baggage claim in an airport. I anxiously awaited the man who would be my ride, my guide, and my climbing instructor.
I rang his cell and informed him that I had come straight from work and would be wearing a gray suit. Though we had been corresponding on SP, through e-mail, and on the phone, I had never actually met my new friend in person. SP, being the great site that it is, has provided me with nothing but positive experiences. Whether I’m meeting new hiking partners, learning to climb, or just escaping to the mountains alone, SP never disappoints.
We drove the long road to Yonah Mountain, and set up camp at the well maintained campgrounds located adjacent to the road that leads to Yonah. It was here that we met up with two other climbing buddies, who aren’t SP members, but should be. Note to self: get them to join. The next morning, I woke my new found friends a little earlier than they would have liked. I simply couldn’t sleep! I was too excited about my first climb on actual rock! We ate breakfast and began the three mile hike to the base of the mountain. What a way to start a day! This hike, along a gravel road, is a continuous incline…sometimes steep, sometimes gradual, but always an excellent warm up for the quads! When we arrived at the bottom, my excitement gave way to nervousness and doubt. The crew quickly dismissed all of my anxiety and set my mind on a more positive path.
Once we had made it to the actual mountain, there was still a series of cables and very wet rock to traverse so that we could begin an actual route. Unaccustomed to the terrain, combined with the weight of my pack, I fell three times. I always hopped right back up, making a joke about my clumsiness, hoping that my companions weren’t alarmed at my lack of grace…Apparently it just took me a while to find my rhythm, because after my first three falls, I was fine.
When we reached the army routes, marked with colors and numbers, we noticed the rock was still annoyingly and hazardously wet. (At this point, I’m certain the crew was cursing me…if I wouldn’t have roused them from bed so early, the rock would be dry!) However, when I pointed this out, they all just laughed.
We began checking the ropes, then donned our harnesses. I received my first lesson in the art of tying a figure 8 and watched as Tiger began the lead ascent up the driest route we could find. I curiously observed Bonnie as she belayed him, wondering if I would be able to trust myself on the rock and just as importantly would I be able to trust my new friends above and below me. Once he reached the top, he tied on to the cable and began belaying Bonnie. (Bonnie had only been on rock once before, but had extensive experience in the gym. I, on the other hand, had very limited experience in the gym and none on the rock.) I encouraged her from the ground, verbally guiding her feet to adequate footholds, while Jim heckled her (that’s just his way).
As Bonnie made her way upward, I began to fill with doubt. “Was I insane?! Did I really think I could climb that hunk of earth!?” I glanced up the wall and noticed a small ledge about twenty feet up. I promised myself that if I made it just to that ledge, then I could turn around and go down, with no shame, no remorse, and no worries. After all, that was higher than I'd ever climbed in the gym. I made my promise public to Jim, who, being the strong and silent type, just laughed. As Bonnie called out her actions from above, I knew that doomsday had arrived. I forced my feet into my shoes and hoped that they wouldn’t fail me now. “Magic Shoes” I would later chant to myself, “just trust the magic shoes.”
I stepped up to the army route numbered two. I thought to myself about the pictures I had seen on summitpost. I remembered one, in particular of a soldier climbing the mountain in his gear. Granted he was a finely tuned athletic machine, but he was in combat boots! I thought to myself, surely if he could climb this thing in combat boots, I could do it in my magic shoes. I looked up the rock at Bonnie and Tiger, who were smiling down at me. I glanced back at Jim and hoped that all the times he had given me a hard time were because he liked me and not because he was waiting to drop me.
I politely patted the rock in front of me, as if this small gesture would announce that I was a friend, not necessarily here to conquer her, but simply seeking permission to experience her glory. I took a deep breath and wondered if I could say the words…
“Climbing,” I finally said.
“Climb on,” he responded.
I began the ascent. Slowly, steadily, and not entirely surely, I made my way to my designated goal ledge. “Okay, I’m here.” I smiled and looked down at Jim. “I made it to my goal ledge. I think I’ll come down now.”
“Come down and I’ll drop you,” Jim gave me his trademark as-a-matter-of-fact-I-am-a-cocky-SOB-look. My eyes grew big. Hindsight being 20/20, I was dumb to actually think he’d drop me, but all I could think of at the time was that he had helped keep me safe this long and that I should just do whatever he said.
Bonnie and Tiger were cheering me on from above, as Jim began describing the next foothold to me. I found it and slipped out of it…my own fault. I wasn’t trusting the magic shoes. I was trying to use my arms entirely too much, and my feet too little. My body wasn’t centered and as a result of all of these things, I fell and crashed against the wall. (I’ve got some really cool bruises!) Then an amazing thing happened. The rope caught me! Ah, this was the best possible thing that could have happened. I wasn’t climbcrazy or anything, but once I realized the rope’s true purpose and Jim’s real role, it became so much easier to try new footholds and maneuvers.
For the next forty five minutes, I cautiously crept up the route. I talked aloud to myself, saying lots of crazy things that I would later be embarassed to learn were heard by the whole party…little words of encouragement about girlpower and God not bringing me this far to leave me; catch phrases like “trust the magic shoes” that had given me confidence in the past; and of course I had a cheerleader and a coach at the top of the route to support my efforts and Jim below me, pretending to be a tough guy who didn’t care if I made it to the top or not. Thus I pressed on.
Elated, exhausted, and with a high I’d never known, I finally reached the top. I had climbed my first actual rock! I was psyched. I thanked Bonnie, Tiger, and Jim and planted myself on the rock to take in the view.
It began to dawn on me that these people, two of whom I had met less than 48 hours ago, and one less than that, now had my complete trust. Sharing an experience like this one, especially if it’s your first one, does wonders for your trusting capabilities. Tiger, my climbing coach, Bonnie, whom I joked had just earned a spot as a bridesmaid, and Jim, the guy that pretended to be mean and hardcore but was actually just a big softie, are all people I can truly trust now, maybe not with trivial things like my heart and my bank account, but with important things, like my life. The emotions we experience on a mountain are absolutely amazing.
We returned to the safety of the ground and sent Jim up the wall as we looked on from below. I pretended like he needed my encouragement the way that I had needed his and so I supplied him with recommended footholds and ways to maneuver, as well as an occasional “you’re doing great, almost there” etc.
I gratefully unlaced my magic shoes and replaced them with my more comfy Adidas before we set off to find our next route. We moved to the colored routes, found one we liked and began to ready the ropes and gear for another climb. The sounds of thunder brought us to a halt. We quickly repacked our gear and began the long hike down, meeting sprinkles along the way. I was on such a natural, euphoric high. I had a permanent smile plastered to my face all the way down the mountain, absolutely thrilled that I hadn’t given up once I had reached my goal ledge. So this is what addiction feels like, I thought to myself. Tiger and I discussed the highpoints of the day as Bonnie and Jim hurried down. Because it was always stressed to me that Yonah was great for beginners, I assumed it was a 5.2 route or so. Tiger informed me that what we had climbed that day was a 5.6. “WHAT? Why would you lead me up a 5.6 on my first climb?” I asked him.
“It was all that was dry,” was his response.
“It was all that was dry,” I repeated. I stared off into the distant clouds and I could feel another high coming on. Not only had I climbed my first mountain, but I had climbed a respectable route for a first time beginner. I had made new friends that I was certain would last a lifetime, and most importantly, I had learned to trust myself and my magic shoes.