Friday, February 22, 2008


This piece is a sequel to yesterday's post, Falling.

I never intended to become a climber. My ex got into it first, loved it, nagged at me endlessly to go, and yet I had no interest in the idea. I expected climbing to be scary, difficult, tiring, and generally unpleasant.

Eventually I gave in to the nagging. I was like "Fine, I'll go - ONCE". The unspoken other half of that sentence was "... so that I can prove this climbing business is not for me, and then you'll shut up about it and leave me alone." I showed up at the gym feeling sulky, ready to hate every second of it. But he was right. One lesson, and I was hooked.

I started going to the climbing gym two or three times a week. If you're serious about making progress, you have to build up your strength. Within a few months, I put so much new muscle onto my upper body that I grew out of my fitted shirts. My pencil arms got ripped. I was a mini Incredible Hulk girl, minus the green.

Climbing requires grace, balance, focus, and endurance. You can't just barge up a wall. You have to plan your route. Even your power moves have to be controlled. You also have to know how to rest on the wall, so that you don't exhaust your strength. Shake out your arms one at a time. Breathe. Reach back into your chalk bag and take care of those sweaty palms. Then make your next move.

The worst fall I ever had at the gym was from this crazy route that went up and across the ceiling. It wasn't a flat ceiling- it was a series of angles, built to mimic the inside of a cave, with holds attached. At the highest point it was around 45 feet up. Terrifying! I had been climbing for two years, but I had never climbed the ceiling route. I hated angled walls because there was too much swing and spin in the harness if you came off. It made me dizzy.

A bunch of climber friends got on my case one day and started pushing me to do the route. I didn't want to, but I felt I had to prove myself to them. I tried to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. I got halfway across the roof when I grabbed for a handhold and missed. I yelled "FALLING!" and plunged headfirst.

Because I was climbing scared, I was unfocused and hadn't properly kept the safety rope clear of my feet. When I fell, my right leg got tangled and I ended up hanging from it. I was lowered to the ground with that leg stuck in the air, upside down. I had a spiral bruise up my thigh for weeks.

I was lucky I wasn't hurt worse. Ken was on the other end of the rope, and he caught me properly. I wouldn't have trusted anyone else as my partner. If some joker was on the other end, not paying attention, I seriously could have broken my neck.

I'd go back to climbing if a gym ever opened in my neighbourhood. There are only three good gyms in the city, and they're all really far away from where I live now. If someone opened a serious gym, not just for kids' birthday parties, but like my old one with 60 foot climbs, clean holds, and challenging routes, I'd be in like Flynn. I just wouldn't climb the ceiling.


Leighann said...

That is certainly something I can never see myself doing! Good for you for going through with it!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Well you know where I stand as far as climbing goes. Hmmm do they have a juice bar there? Maybe I could go watch athletic women crawl across the ceiling :)

jameil1922 said...

i can't say i'd never climb b/c i've done it before. i just don't know that it would be a hobby.

Sparkling Red said...

Leighann: You might surprise yourself. After all, I thought I'd hate it. :-) If you ever have a chance to try, don't pass it up.

Warped Mind of Ron: No juice bar, but they do have bottled beverages for sale. And the place is literally crawling with women in spandex. Very fit women.

Jameil: That could be your next gym experience. You can't read while you're climbing, but you wouldn't miss it because climbing is definitely not boring. It demands all your attention.

Aric Blue said...

I just don't get the allure of climbing--lot of work for nothing. But then again, I'm older than the hills. (37)

San said...

OK, Red, your post was making me want to try climbing. Until I read about your fall. I would be a scared climber. I would fall. It would hurt.

Sparkling Red said...

Aric Blue: Remember how much fun it was to climb around a jungle gym when you were a kid? That's the joy of it. And don't try to impress me with your advanced age. You're only 2 years older than me.

San: Don't let my story scare you. I took a stupid risk, and I should have known better. For the entire two years before that day, I climbed smart, and the worst injuries I had were sore muscles from pushing myself. It's actually pretty safe, if you use your head. :-)

For the record, climbing is a low-impact sport, so people of all ages can enjoy it. There were a handful of climbers in their 50's and 60's at my gym, back in the day.

Aurora said...

Glad to hear you would go back. Climbing sounds so life-affirming and the few times I went it was amazing fun. But yes... commuting to gyms really sucks.

Jenski said...

That definitely makes me want to try climbing! It sounds more mind clearing than just going to the gym, because you really do have to concentrate and think about what you are doing. Plus my arms are pathetic. :) I would definitely make sure I learned how to fall well ASAP with these stories though!

Sparkling Red said...

Aurora: Life-affirming - that's a good description. :-)

Jenski: I hope you do get a chance to try climbing. At the very least, the experience would be worth a blog post. ;-)