Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Back in 2001 I was a true burly girl. I was strong and was doing some hard climbs (for me = 5.9 trad - see explanation below). Once in a while I would get on something that was exceptionally challenging, and my poor belayer would stand there for 1.5 hours at least while I did the climb. I did one climb that had the word 'roof' in the title. And there were multiple roofies on the climb. My husband was not my husband at the time, but we climbed together a lot, and he was the lucky belayer.

The crux on the long first pitch is a roof (imagine that). I did not have the correct size gear to place something in the obvious place. I did not have the strength to go halfway up the roof and stop to place gear. And since I was pushing my limits, I lost some of my technique, and apparently put my leg behind the rope as I was pulling the roof.

Now, putting your leg behind the rope places you in a very dangerous position. If you fall, you catch your leg on the rope, and flip upside down, with the potential for serious injury. I once fell on a climb in the indoor gym, caught my leg behind the rope, and flipped. Luckily instinct kicked in and I went into a fetal position as much as I could, and I ended up not hitting anything and being ok. (You don't wear a helmet in the gym usually, so it could have been bad.)

Thankfully in this outdoor climb, I made the move successfully and finished the climb. My husband told me later how scared he was watching me. It would have made no sense to tell me about it as I was doing it, because it would have freaked me out, ruined my confidence and I would have fallen. The belayer always has to judge when the time is to tell someone, and I believe he made the right decision.

So, this past weekend my husband did the climb. There are two second pitches, and I had never done the one with the big big roof (in fact, in my climbing book I had written NFW after seeing it up close). My husband had done it before and loved it, so decided to take me up it.

To be safe, he told me to bring gear to prussik up the rope in case I could not finish the climb, or fell into space and could not get back to the rock. Of course, my hackles went up ' what, you don't believe I can do it? '. When I got up there, I was glad he had said to bring it. Three to four feet of roof, horizontally away from the rock, hanging into space.

When he started it and was standing under the roof, his feet were above the horizon. Stepping on the clouds. My stomach lurched just watching him there, with the thought that I would have to follow him! He said to me, how can I be so excited yet so nervous at the same time? He managed to get a piece of gear above the roof, though as he was getting stuff off his harness, he looked down. Mistake! Looking down into space.

After a few false starts, he finally made the move, and slowly/quickly I only saw half his body, and then only the bottom of his feet and a few pieces of hanging gear. And then he was up and over. CRAP - I'd have to follow him.

So, with nothing to do except belay, I watched the trees move in the wind and the vultures spin in the air. There was one dead tree just below us, and one turkey vulture landed on it. For some reason other vultures (both turkey and black I believe) would land for a second on a branch and fly immediately off. I watched them until I heard 'off belay' and took my husband off belay.

As I stood there and he took up the rope so he could belay me, I relaxed myself by continuing to watch the birds and the trees and the clouds, etc. Just as I was about ready to climb, at least seven vultures landed on the dead tree. My husband calls out 'See the vultures? I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with you climbing!' Great. Thanks. :-) I actually laughed out loud, which was good for me.

And ultimately it wasn't so bad. Crazy, amazing to be hanging out in space and pulling yourself up. I found a hold out right, and at one point my entire body was almost stretched out completely and horizontal. But I made it up and over. Amazing. A gorgeous gorgeous climb. (For the record, I had to hang several times...) And since I did it, it's been taken off of my NFW list, and I think someday, if I'm strong enough, I can do it.

[though you could look this up, rating systems on climbs vary across the world. The US uses the Yosemite Decimal System (5.0-5.15). 5.0-5.4 you could climb without any gear and be ok. 5.5 and up you want to have a rope/belayer protecting you. 5.15 is the hardest anyone has ever done - look at a 5.15 and a normal person will see an almost blank face, for example, yet there is someone out there that can climb that. I can climb up to 5.11 on top rope (on a good day). I can climb up to 5.10 on bolted climbs. I have climbed up to 5.10 on trad and taken a number of falls on that one 5.10]

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