A Lesson in Knots

I have always struggled with knots. My parents, friends, teachers, even strangers–at some point, so many people have tried to teach me and it always winds up with me being frustrated (at the least) and no knots accomplished. I don’t know exactly what the mental deficit for me is. I think it’s the same one where I get “righty tighty, lefty loosey” when I’m facing the bolt straight on, but as soon as I reach under the lawnmower to adjust the blades, I can’t figure out which way anything is supposed to turn to save my life. Guesswork and lots of trial and error has been my main method in this area. So hand me a cord and tell me “it’s easy, left over right and right over left” and things get ugly pretty fast. 

Because Taylor wants me to do Mt. Rainier before long, I’ve started gathering better gear and trying to improve myself so I’m ready when the chance comes. The schedule for the Mountaineers full climbing course did not line up for me this year, but I found a scrambling class through the Olympia branch and signed up so I could start somewhere. I’ve been scrambling before and picked up most of the skills through my parents, but the formal training seemed like a better idea, especially as I want to correct any bad habits and find the safest way to do things. 

Our first scrambling class was in the classroom and very introductory on terrain, terminology, the Ten Essentials, gear… and then it was announced that the rest of the evening would be spent doing knots. I felt my stomach sink and my face flush, already stressed out at the thought of once again screwing up and embarrassing myself in front of people I wanted to earn the respect and trust of. “Great…”

As we rotated stations, I struggled. Sure, I could do the Bowline, it was easy to mirror what the instructor was doing. And the Figure Eight was familiar from gym climbing in college, so I managed that alright. But the square knot, the “easiest” knot and the quintessential “left over right” made me want to disappear in shame as I kept having to redo it and was told that there were great tutorials online that could help me. Thanks, like I’ve never tried those… 

At the station for the Double Fisherman’s Knot (I’ve also heard it called a Barrel Knot?), one instructor watched me get it wrong over and over and quietly pulled me aside. “You know, the way you were shown is correct, but it’s not the only way… try this…” and he showed me a variation. And the darn knot worked! I about fainted. And then I was able to reproduce it on my own. What was this black magic?!

The next day at work, a coworker sat down with me and helped me practice the knots. Instead of blustering or redirecting when we got to one I couldn’t do, I finally decided to practice trusting more and confided in him how much I was struggling. Then I told him how the “other method” had worked with the Fisherman’s knot. Gery then proceeded to show me tricks he knew for several of the knots I was struggling with… and it worked! I was almost giddy!

At the next Mountaineers class, we were tested on our knots. As soon as I got to the station, I swallowed my pride and told the instructor that this was not easy and I had been learning alternate methods. He allowed me to do them as I wanted, watching carefully and checking the resulting knot. And I was signed off on all eight needed for the scrambling course!

I will have to continue to practice and maybe one day I’ll know the “right ways” to do them, but for the first time I no longer feel embarrassed or angry because of knots. It took a few unexpected things to get me to this place though, didn’t it? I had to own up to my struggles, ask for help, and learn to be alright with not being perfect. So many lessons, and I haven’t even gone up a mountain with them yet.

Thank you Gery, and the Olympia Mountaineers instructors! For the first time ever, I think I got this!

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