I can picture the round, grey holds, the way I pushed down on one with my left hand and wrapped my right hand around the other, trying to get a secure grip. I can picture the hold for my foot, not even twelve inches away from where my right toe is pressed onto a tinier hold.
I can picture the rough beige wall in front of my face, the twenty feet below me to the floor and the ten feet above me to the final handhold.
Then the picture shatters in pain.
I bounce at the end of the rope, clutching my right arm above the elbow. Pain screams up and down my bicep—or is it my tricep?—and I gasp, “I think I pulled something. Put me down.”
My cousin’s friend is belaying me and he lowers me without a word. I find myself wondering if my cousin would have lowered me just as quickly—usually when I tell her “I can’t do this anymore,” her response is “Yes you can.” She’s never let me quit halfway up the wall. Because of that, I’ve always made it to the top, even after I thought I couldn’t anymore.
This time is different. This time, I’ve hurt myself.
Standing on the floor again, I ask for help unknotting the rope around my climbing harness. Then I watch as my cousin belays her friend up a wall. I swing my arm, trying to determine how much I hurt it and whether I can keep climbing or not.
I don’t want to quit yet; I was ready to challenge myself with a 5.10c route I tried last week (and that my cousin had to coach me up while refusing to let me down). She’s been working on that route for a month, so I borrowed her expertise to climb it myself. I spent a bunch of time just hanging out on a particularly hard underhang, so I want to try it again.
I realize it’s not going to happen this week. I take off my harness and shoes and spend the rest of the evening watching my cousin.
Why I Love Rock Climbing
Rock climbing has become for me almost an addiction. Every Wednesday night, I meet my cousins and various friends at the gym for a couple hours of scrambling up the wall. Even if I’m tired by suppertime from trying to convince the girls not to shriek at each other or whine at me, walking into the gym somehow re-energizes me.
Here, all I have to think about is the best way to climb a wall and which route I want to try this week. I like to challenge myself, to come away at the end of the night with the feeling that I pushed myself hard and succeeded at something I couldn’t do last month—or even last week.
One week later, I went to the climbing gym with my cousin and two of my neighbours. My arm still protested a bit when I picked up Sunshine or Lily or reached above my head, but overall it felt pretty good. I won’t challenge myself this week, I thought. I’ll just climb some easy routes…
But after I watch my neighbour climb the 5.10b route that wrecked my arm last week, I rope in to do it again. It’s an easy climb, until I get to the same holds that stumped me last week—the place I sat, mustering up the courage to make the move that sent pain shooting down my arm.
I’m not going to do that again. I try to remember what my neighbour did to get past this section. I attempt some new moves, twisting myself in ways I haven’t before, ignoring the distance to the floor below me, trusting he’s got my rope.
And I make it to the top. My hands are sweaty and shaking as I ring the bell, but there’s a sense of triumph coursing through me as I’m lowered to the floor again.