Dangling off the side of a cliff sounds more like an intense scene from an action movie than a casual weekend with friends, but not anymore; this month we decided to tackle rock climbing. How hard can climbing something be? I killed it on jungle gyms…when I was seven.
Denita and I are legitimate first-timers, but despite Emily’s many rock climbing experiences, she didn’t feel 100% ready (E: or even 10% ready…) to be our trainer. We called our friends John, Mark and Liz, who all admittedly have more climbing experience than Emily (thank god). We cajoled (read: begged) our good friend Dan to handle the camera, promising he would at least get some laughs out of our inexperience.
There are some great rock-climbing spots for beginners within driving distance of Redding, but since the whole point of GGitWild is to get us out of our comfort zones, John selected a site a little further afield. He chose a lonely table of limestone called Lover’s Leap, located in one of the beautiful valleys in far Northern California. It was a long, meandering drive through acres of farmland. This unique little spot is both isolated and exposed. The Lover’s Leap in Tahoe is more commonly known, so this one has been dubbed the ‘Other’ Lover’s Leap by those in the know.
We arrived around midday to a quintessential California weekend; warm and sunny with adorable cloud puffs scattered across the bright blue horizon. We parked in the open area at the end of the road and set out on the hike that would take us to our first climbing destination. We were all smiling as John walked us up to our first wall, except for Denita, who’s face showed wonder and excitement mixed with a little bit of are you freaking kidding me? Up until this point, she had been cool and aloof about the prospect of climbing, and just like me wondered how hard can climbing be? Of course, that was before she saw the towering rock cliff that was higher than either of us were expecting. Our handy dandy climbing book informed us that the wall we were about to scale (well attempt to scale) was a 5.8. D: WTF does that even mean?! It’s hard to feel like an outdoorsy badass when you’re climbing routes names after Sesame Street puppets.
John dropped the rope from the top of the cliff, then he and Liz gave us a rundown of safety procedures and the gear we would be using. A Metolius Waldo harness and Monster Dynamic 8.9mm rope; 5.10 Rogue VCS climbing shoes; carbiner/belay device; and a chalk bag . . . which I attached to my harness, but never reached for once as the chalkiness of my hands did not register once as a variable I gave any shits about. Then, they tied, cinched and clipped us into a harness.
Denita jumped up first. She tackled the wall from multiple angles, but just didn’t have much luck getting over a weird little bulbous formation at the base. Then it was my turn. I got a little ways up the wall before John told me to lean back and get a feel for the rope. I was not pleased to lose the small gains I had made, but I acquiesced, and let him lower me back down a bit. I made it about a third of the way up, but hit a wall (D: Ha! So punny) when I reached a spot with handholds so small they were almost non-existent. I slid back down Grover’s Fluffy Bum (or whatever it was called) in shame, and sat down to rethink my strategy. Before I could even get the top off my water bottle, Emily had got into her gear and scaled the wall, making it to the summit in no time. Show off.
While we rested, we got a crash-course on how to properly belay, aka not letting the climber fall to a rocky death if they lost their footing. Emily and I belayed each other up a 5.7. I got further, which I attribute mainly to my newfound skill of grunting, which strangely seemed to help. But right around halfway up my muscles had had it with Ticklish Elmo. Clinging to those teeny tiny finger holds really takes it out of you. Please note my wall names are less than accurate. They are named after puppets, and since all puppets are pretty flipping creepy, they deserve to be mocked.
Next Emily hopped up onto the wall and I experienced the abject terror that comes with having someone’s life in your hands. Basics of belaying – move the rope through the belay while making sure one hand is always ready to apply pressure and not let a missed grab be a gruesome injury. Mark stayed close and talked me through it, but still, TERROR!!! E: Trust me, the terror was felt on both sides of that rope! Despite my novice skills, Em did great and even screwed with me a little on the way down by taking a few kick offs from the wall, making me grip the rope even tighter and curse like a sailor until her shoes hit the dirt.
As we hiked out, I reflected on my two failed attempts to reach the top. It seems to me that one of the main skills necessary for rock climbing is unrelenting stubbornness. E: Which she is in no short supply of. You need to stubbornly ignore the pain building in your extremities, stubbornly refuse to let the multitude of cuts and scrapes hinder your progress, and stubbornly fight the urge to fall backwards and let your belayer lower you softly to the ground. Editor’s note from Billy: Most people call this being tough. Writer’s note to Billy: :-p
We set up tents at the trailhead and lit a fire. We ate delicious food and some of us drank strong whiskey while we watched as thousands of stars glittered across the night sky. I doubt there was another soul for miles. One great thing about being in the middle of nowhere, the only light pollution is your own. Soon, the whiskey and exertion did their jobs and we fell asleep under the stars. Of course I mean in a tent, I am not that advanced yet!
The next morning we woke up slowly due to the whiskey. As I stumbled around camp, rubbing my sleepy eyes, I realized a horrible thing. No bathrooms. The time had finally come. I tried to sneak away from camp, only to hear the laughter of my ‘friends’. With as much dignity as I could muster, I found a woodsy spot overlooking the valley to do my business. D: BAHAHAHAHA! E: HAHAHAHAHAHA! I hated it and I hate that I am talking about it. SO MUCH HATE.
Sometime during the night, Emily’s dog Hazel had managed to mistake one of our brand new climbing shoes as a chew toy and decided it needed an open toe. We were hoping the indigestion might teach her a lesson, but she was pleased as punch with her new toy.
The next wall required a bit more hiking, which was not ideal considering that Liz, one of our climbing experts, is pregnant. For her, this weekend entailed hiking miles just to watch us climb and sit on uncomfortable rock piles . . . yep, she’s a badass. No one wanted to get overtaken by a very capable, but still very pregnant lady. The group quickly spread out with me somewhere in the middle. I was having a very pleasant solo hike, a fact that I failed to register until I heard Mark calling to me from far down the trail . . . behind me. Apparently the trail we were on had turned and I had just kept going straight. How am I supposed to tell the difference between trail marker rocks and normal flipping rocks!? They are rocks!!! D: Chasing butterflies probably.
We checked out a few different lines and decided on a section that had a 5.5. YAY! As our group started tackling the wall, we realized the abrasiveness of these rocks were way better than what we had climbed the day before. I’m not going to say smooth or even pleasant, but better. My spirits restored, I began to work on fortifying my stubbornness. John began the lead climb to the top to set the rope. Emily topped out, and Denita made it further up the wall than the day before, but just couldn’t get past the mental block of ‘I don’t want to do this’ (and for Denita, that means she is done).
My turn! I stepped up to the plate (so to speak) wielding my bolstered stubbornness and my newfound grunting power. E: The Williams sisters got nothin’ on her! Up I went. At times it felt like I was flying up with incredible acumen and other times I felt inept and inches took ages. But I made it!!! Sure, it was an ‘easier’ rock to climb than the previous day, but I’m taking the victory, dammit. D: As you should!
The sporty part of this trip was amazing – I loved the thrill and challenge of rock climbing. For me, hikes are way more fun with a pay-off at the end. And what could be more fun than arriving at a grown-up jungle gym to play on? It was convenient to camp at the trailhead and it was a very pleasant evening for a campfire with friends, but . . . I am definitely not used to doing my business outside! I am heading home with two victories under my belt: I climbed a rock wall and I pooped in the woods. While the former involved some physical pain, it was the latter that my mind was the most opposed to. I guess like anything, this too will require some practice. Ew. D: Double ew, followed by BAHAHAHAHA!!!
Update – we have since been to our local climbing gym, Shasta Rock Club. We learned a little terminology. Large, comfortable hand holds are called jugs, really? And apparently when you are talking about the difficulty of a route you say five, eight, instead of five point eight. Ben, the gym owner, asked that we continue saying it wrong, as it was cute. Cute? Ben, you are now on my list. Cute or not, we accomplished the main reason for our visit; Denita got over her mental block! WAY OVER IT. She was climbing up, up and away in no time, and now she wants to get back onto a real rock and try again. D: Wait, what? I do?
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