The Cliffs of Acadia

December 19, 2009
The gulls screeched in melody with the wind. My guide and I approached the ledges cautiously, taking care as not to slip on moss covered with morning dew. He was young, tall and lanky, a rough face hiding a boyish expression. I had met him not 30 minutes ago in the parking lot behind my hotel. We were now far away from there, replacing urban streets with wooden forest.
As I walked through the narrow trail to our destination, I thought about the adventure I had embarked upon. Rock climbing had always been a love of mine. There was something about the way it felt, rough hands on smooth stone, that drew me forward. Thrill, exhaustion, sheer terror, all mixed in chalk and sweat as climber becomes one with rock. That love had brought me to The Birds' Cliffs in Acadia National Park.
My guide dropped his pack, I followed suit.
"Alright, this is it!" he said, smiling.
It was overwhelming. Thousands of gulls, loons and grebes flocked over our heads, announcing our arrival to the cliffs. The great Atlantic Ocean crashed below, and the deep fog that had engulfed us since daybreak lifted, receding to the sun. I was welcomed to paradise.
“Lets start over there”.
My guide pointed to a small overhang on the outer edges of the ledge. I walked over, peering over the edge. Fifty feet below foaming waves clashed on rocks green with algae. I stepped back and smiled.
As I slipped into a harness the guide ran the rope around a large bolder, tying the line securely to what would be my safety if I fell.
“You set?”
I clipped in, grabbed the belay line, and leaned back. As I lowered myself down to the waves below, I was overcome with adrenaline. This was it! I was finally climbing The Birds’ Cliffs! Twenty feet to touchdown. There was no turning back. No way out. Ten feet. I let the rope slip briskly thorough my hands, anxious to touch ground. Suddenly I felt the splash of salty water on my legs. I hit the ground quickly, unclipped my belay and climbed into the second loop. Up to my ankles in surging water, I was anxious to get onto the rock.
I could just see my guide’s face peeping over the ledge directly above me. I shot him a thumbs up and, just like that, was on my way. Reach, pull, step, reach, stop, search. I took my time, making sure my holds were true. Birds flew overhead, squaking at this strange human, but I took no notice. I was consumed by the rock and the art of climbing. Reach, pull, step, reach, stop, search. I reached for a small crack directly above my left shoulder, wedging my fingers against the stone. Suddenly, my hand gave way. I grabbed wildly at nothing, trying to stop the plunge. I fell. The rope slackened, then jerked taught. I was suddenly twisted sideways, chalk spewing out of my bag as I was caught off guard. I caught the rope and straightened myself. Peering up the rock, I saw the hold I missed taunting me from ten feet above.
“You ok?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Give me a sec.”
I focused in on the hold. It stared right on back. It was mine.
I started up again, directly up the same route I had gone over just minutes ago. Reaching the spot where I had failed I paused. The Cliffs had given me the challenge and I was accepting it. Reaching up once again, my rough fingers felt the smooth stone. Tension rose in my fingers and spread down my arm to my body, to my other arm, to my chest, to my legs. I surged forward, right arm swinging up for a jug. My fingers started slipping. They let go. My right arm shot up, reaching, searching, desperately wanting to connect. My fingers stretched out and grasped for the rock. There. Just barely, I was hanging from the Cliffs by three fingers, the rest of my body dangling in the wind. I had done it. I had conquered the hold.
After another few minutes I scrambled over the top to my grinning guide.
“Nice move.”
Afterwards we drove back to the hotel in silence. I stared out the window at the beauty that was Maine, warmed by my own self satisfaction. I had done it.
I had conquered the hold.
“It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?” he said.
I smiled.

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