On Monday, my mentor for basic climbing, Carolyn D., met up with me at the climbing gym to practice sitting hip belay (more specifically, navigating the system of setting up and tying in
gracefully successfully). After battling with the tangle of rope for a while, it was time to get back into climbing after a long hiatus from the climbing gym.
Gym climbing in college was fun and a great workout. Trying to get back into it last year wasn’t successful as after the first visit to a local gym, I suffered from a MRSA infection on my arm, and once that was healed and I went back, I ended up with horrible MRSA infections on my leg. I can’t say for sure that I contracted it at that climbing gym, but I have since decided to 1) climb elsewhere, 2) wear as many items of cover-clothing as reasonable at any gym, and 3) wash everything and shower vigorously (oh yes, there’s a difference) after each session.
And to clarify, Cirque (the gym this story takes place at) is not the same climbing gym that I went to before. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever go back to that one. Once bitten, twice shy… twice bitten, %#$& that!
I’ll admit that after a long hiatus and being a little gun-shy from getting so sick last year, I was nervous at the prospect of climbing again. It has been my biggest point of concern/fear in basic climbing and something I hoped to skirt around with more focus given to glacier travel. But then Carolyn worked her magic and suddenly a mental block I’ve carried for who knows how long is lifted.
Things started off a little painfully. I fumbled through my belay test, my inner monologue a barrage of self-defeating rhetoric that made me regret ever agreeing to come to the gym. As we approached the first wall, Carolyn asked about my goals and thoughts and whatever else she was asking that I kept losing over my own negative self-talk. But then I got on the wall and I actually had fun!
“My arms are going to kill me,” I thought, and “I must look like an idiot,” crept through my mind. But Carolyn coached me along and before I knew it, I was at the top of the wall and being lowered down.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad…”
Then it was my turn to belay Carolyn. I was a little nervous that I would screw up again without her at my shoulder guiding me, but as soon as I said “on belay,” I was mentally clicked-in and focused. Everything flowed and I felt the familiar calm of the wilderness that I hadn’t expected to find at the gym that evening.
As I watched Carolyn climb, I noticed something I hadn’t before. Maybe because I am used to watching men climb, or maybe my own self-talk blinded me with anxiety, but watching Carolyn’s slow, fluid movements up the wall, I was pulled back to college but not to the gym. No, I was mentally back in a local dancehall dancing ballroom, practically floating as I waltzed around the dance floor.
I let out a quiet gasp as I watched her feet and arms waltz up the wall, and I had a moment of clarity. Any act of athleticism when gracefully performed is like a dance. I had seen it in skiing and figure skating, but had never looked for it on the mountains. And if my amazing mentor could do it, I realized, maybe I could too.
My turn came next, and Carolyn pointed me toward a 5.8 route. As I climbed, the voice inside started in with the negativity again, but this time I found myself taking a breath and whispering, “it’s just like dancing.” And suddenly I felt a connection to the wall that I’d never felt before, and I trusted my body to do what I asked of it as I turned my focus away from my fears and up to the hand and foot holds that took me to the top.
I climbed two 5.8s that evening, both with a rest on the rope to problem-solve, but both all the way to the top, even after hitting a point of knowing that letting go and “trying again later” would have been easier. And I felt elation, not negativity or frustration, at the end.
We celebrated with a quick run around the bouldering wall so I could send a picture of me climbing in leggings to a friend (a small business owner who has recently launched a super fun leggings-sales business from home). I was upbeat, excited, and more hopeful than I’ve ever been about climbing.
I know I have a long way to go in my climbing career, but you know what? When I started college, I had no inclination towards ballroom dance either. If I could leave college as a dancer, maybe I can leave 2018 as a climber.
I can’t wait to waltz the walls again soon.
To follow our trail…