good scars, great memories

April 13, 2010
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My body is close to the rock, calloused fingers lodged into sharp pockets in the cliff face, my heart pounds ferociously in my chest, threatening to knock me clean off the wall. The blood, sweat and tears from past climbers lingers here, and now I add my share. I can feel the cliff, breathe with it, become part of its history. Needless to say, I am addicted, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I’m proudly addicted to climbing.
What started as a casual conversation with my rock climbing instructor lead to the best weekend (so far) of my life. Me and the climbing gang were at training on a Wednesday, as usual. I’d been climbing indoor for a year, done a few regional competitions here and there, even scored myself a trophy, but there was one thing I hadn’t tried, the thing that makes a true climber, and that was outdoor. The more experienced climbers assured me that it was like nothing I would have ever experienced before, impossible to describe, never to be forgotten. Jason, our instructor, overheard our conversation and began making suggestions for a weekend trip. Of course, once he mentioned it we all hassled him until it was impossible to take back. And so arrangements were made for the weekend after next, and it was all we talked about at training. “I'm gonna try out the grade twenty-two that I saw on the climbing guide, apparently it’s famous, people from all over the world come to climb it” “I hope my rope’s long enough, apparently there’s some thirty-five meter climbs” and “Jake said there was a grade thirty one over there” were some of the exclamations to be heard as the trip grew nearer. Jake was the man in charge of the trip, as well as the organizer of all the regional competitions; you could say he’s the stereotypical climber, with mean dreadlocks and a bare chest no matter what the weather. He’s laid back about everything except climbing safety, which is a good thing, because climbing is a risky sport that involves a hell of a lot of gear to keep you attached to the wall. If you saw me you wouldn’t call me a climber, being a lanky girl and with no bulging arm muscles or hard abs, but I have a competitive nature, and I’m not a quitter.
Before I go all climbing-obsessed and start writing in climber’s language, I should tell you about grades. Theoretically, you could walk up a grade one, which doesn’t make much of a challenge. The hardest classed grade is a thirty-six, but even a twenty-five is likely to be on a huge overhang with handholds half the size of M&M’s. In the world’s competition the climbs are mostly around grade twenty-six. You won’t find anything much harder than a twenty-three in most indoor centers unless there’s a competition on, and the hardest I’ve climbed was a twenty-two.

As the car grew closer to Sheridan hills, the crag (climbing spot) we were headed for, I could hardly contain my excitement. Sheer cliffs rose up from the farmland, grass atop them swayed rhythmically in the light wind. I could make out little caves and overhangs, and at the bottom I could see little colored specks, but surely they couldn’t be… “Holy crap, those are people!” exclaimed Cameron, a climbing partner who had hitched a ride in my mum’s car. They were people, so tiny in comparison to the cliff I found it hard to believe.
We met the rest of a group sitting at the bottom of the hill on a tarpaulin with all of the gear, Jake handing out gear. I was given a handful of heavy clips, and looked at them questioningly. “there are no clips in the walls, only bolts” Jake explained “you’ll have to bring the clips up with you and secure them into the wall as you go.” Great. Lead climbing. Not that I have anything against it on indoor, but it’s a bit more nerve-racking when you’re up a cliff with heavy clips on your harness, taking one hand off the wall to put the clip in the tiny metal loop bolted to the rock, which takes a bit of force, and then bringing the rope up to secure it in. it’s much harder than top rope, which is when the rope is looped around the top of a climb, no clipping in necessary.
Three hours passed, and my feet were in agony from being crammed into the tiny climbing shoes, my legs quavered from balancing with my toes on barely-there holds, the muscles in my arms ached profusely and my ruined fingers bled from being shoved into the coarse pockets in the rock. It was great. I felt wonderful, alive and powerful. Conquering the mighty cliffs made me feel invincible. There’s something about being thirty meters off the ground with your shaking legs barely attached to the wall, pinching tiny handholds and knowing that you must hold on with your fingertips or face falling, that adrenaline rush when the wind blows through your sweating hair and you think “this is it, I'm falling” and then you use this amazing burst of strength you never knew you had to leap to the next good hold, and you get to the next clip, secure your rope to it, and you know you are safe, and you feel at peace with the world, like nothing can ever go wrong as long as you keep climbing forever. And then when you reach the top you will have fresh cuts and bruises to remind you of your effort, and a breathtaking view etched into your mind forever. It’s really something.
We spent nine hours at Sheridan hills that day, and once we returned back to the lodge I felt like a new person. Eighteen of us climbers crammed into the one small spa pool, sitting on top of each other and sharing our stories of the day. We had a great dinner, burgers, lamb, chips, salad and everything in between, and later that night we watched a slide show of the day’s photo’s on the projector screen, and even later they showed a climbing movie, just in case we hadn’t had enough of climbing.
The next day at Froggat edge was just as awesome, and by the end of it we were all much better acquainted (not just because we were in the spa together). And even though I’m back at home now, writing in my pajamas, my mind will always be on rock climbing. And I have plenty of great scars to remind me.

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