As you all know, I take requests on this blog. If you have something you want to see me try I will make every effort to bring it to life on these pages. Several months ago, one of your fellow readers suggested I try ice climbing. I made every effort to make this happen, but sadly I was too late and all the ice in the Northeast melted before I booked it. So as not to disappoint the great gal who made the suggestion, I found the next best thing: rock climbing.
Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I did attack a rock wall once, with surprising success, but I knew that this would be different. Climbing at a rock gym offers a certain sense of safety despite the fact that you are off the ground…maybe it’s the brightly colored mats covering the floor. But I figured this outdoor adventure would make for a good post: I’d fail miserably, you would laugh, and that would be that. I should have known better, it’s never that simple.
Our day began early. My friends Laurie and Eleanor (who has a great travel photography blog that you should check out) agreed to come with me and we were due in the White Mountains of New Hampshire by 8:00 a.m. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the copious amount of caffeine consumed on the drive, but we busted into the bunkhouse of Northeast Mountaineering laughing hysterically. Corey Fitzgerald, co-owner of NEM and his fellow guide, Vincent Dude, were probably not expecting this much pep. Nor were they expecting the impromptu stand-up comedy routine we performed as we hiked into Square Ledge at Pinkham Notch, right in front of Mt Washington. The ledge is 100 feet high (I don’t think I knew that until after I started climbing).
It may have been because we were still laughing so hard, but I volunteered to climb first without thinking twice about it. Seriously, it takes me longer to decide whether to screen a phone call. Before I knew it, I was off the ground. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m a natural (but don’t take my word for it, read what Corey has to say)! Women may worry that they don’t have the upper body strength to climb, but it’s all in the legs. All I had to do was find a crevasse to wedge a toe in and simply stand up on that leg. Plus, I was so focused on what was directly in front of me (the rock) that I didn’t really look around and register how high I was. I think this is a testament to the cumulative effect this blog—and all these adventures—have had on me. I have somehow Metamorphisized from a worrywart into an adventurer. Climb a mountain? Why not, it’s Saturday!
At the top I had to belay down, and that’s when my bubble burst. I was terrified as I leaned back and walked my feet down the side of the ledge as Eleanor lowered my harness (and me) slowly to the ground. And when I say terrified…I mean scared to death…deep breathing, maybe an audible whimper. I even yelled at some tween boys climbing nearby when their shrieks just about sent me over the edge (sorry, rock climbing humor). Corey said it was actually pretty normal for people to be more nervous on the way down, which made me feel a little better. But only a little.
The obvious hypothesis I came to while nearly hyperventilating was that it’s all about control. Despite being harnessed to someone on the ground I felt more in control while actively climbing up, on the way down I was anything but. I really thought I was over this control freak thing, but maybe I can be excused because I was 100 feet in the air.
I didn’t let that loss of control—or fear of death for that matter—stop me. I climbed two more times. Corey had repelled from the top of the ledge to take some of the amazing pictures you see here, and he was able to coach me from the top. On my subsequent climbs I told him a few times that I was done, I had made it high enough, that I was going to head down. Without putting any pressure on me, he encouraged me to keep going. “Don’t you want to tap the carabineer (which marked the very top),” he asked. Well, of course I did. On my next climb when I couldn’t find a foothold and got frustrated he suggested I take a moment to rest and take a look around. That was the perspective I needed. Soon I found my next move, just as I’m sure he knew I would. BEST GUIDE EVER. I am really proud of my friends as well; both faced a fear of heights or physical limitations and did a great job.
I learned a few lessons from this adventure, including that fact that while I may be more brave—or maybe brazen—as a result of trying all these new experiences, I’m not immune to momentary freak-outs. But it’s o.k. to be scared sometimes, just don’t let that fear hold you back from trying new things or testing your limits (to a certain degree). Pushing past that fear and those limits helps us discover what we are made of and how much we can accomplish.
I also learned how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. This rock climbing experience could have been very different if I had been with different people—both friends and guides. We never stopped laughing, and Corey and Vincent were the definition of supportive. I usually don’t gush this much on the blog, but they were fantastic. I was not compensated in any way for this post (I actually paid them), so you can trust this recommendation. If you are thinking of rock climbing, hiking or ice climbing in New England you should do it with Northeast Mountaineering. We have already booked our next outing with them: Franconia Ridge in August. I think I am becoming outdoorsy!
Many thanks to Laurie Murphy and Eleanor Crow for climbing with me and to Corey Fitzgerald and Vincent Dude of Northeast Mountaineering helping us do it. As I mentioned above I was not compensated for this post. To Valerie Jupe, who suggested I trying ice climbing, I will try again next winter. I will not let you down!