/ Boulder

On Belay, Bitches!

It's been a while, but tonight I finally tried something new: rock climbing. More specifically, I took a belay course at the Boulder Rock Club, that included a little rock climbing. Brenda got into rock climbing about a year and a half ago, and at the time I had no interest in joining her. I was riding my bike around while she was hanging from tiny little pieces of plastic bolted to the climbing walls in the gym (and later, from chinks in the rocks of Eldorado Canyon), and that was fine with me; she had her hobby, and I had mine. Once she started her classes last year, Brenda absolutely fell in love with the challenges: the physical challenges as well as the mental puzzle-solving challenges that go with the territory. Still, I just thought rock climbing wasn't for me. I'm too heavy, too klutzy, too weak. Too outta shape.

And then I saw some climbing movie, and everything changed. I want to do that, I thought. And so tonight I made the first tiny baby step towards becoming a rock climber, by signing up for the Wednesday night "Belay Basics" class taught at the Boulder Rock Club.

I showed up at the Boulder Rock Club after work tonight and met Joe, my instructor. Turns out I was the only person signed up this week, so I got one-on-one instruction for the whole lesson! He gave me some shoes and a harness; I thanked him for the gear and realized that he could have handed me a pair of Crocs and a garden hose and I would have thought I was properly equipped. I would spend the next hour or so becoming familiar with these pieces of equipment as well as the belay device, a simple piece of aluminum with a cable attached to it that allows the belayer (the dude on the ground) to stop a fall easily.

Joe gave me a tour of the place, a large complex of several rooms with ceilings over twenty feet high, with ropes everywhere, and all manner of hardbodies--men and women who could totally kick my ass--hanging from the ropes like they lived there, and others doing Spider Man impersonations all over the climbing walls. I was intimidated. But then we went upstairs to what apparently is the beginner room. A few nine year-olds were wandering around and doing their OWN best Spider Man impersonations. I was intimidated, again.

But no matter, I was simply here to learn to belay, this requires one's feet on the ground. Baby steps.

Joe taught me the basics of checking your harness, how to tie the knots one needs, and the basics of belay jargon before he set off on his merry way up the wall, providing a real-live belay experience for me. Some pointers ensued, and after a few more runs up and down the wall, he said to undo the belay device and he handed me the other end of the rope and the next thing I knew I was standing in front of the wall and I hear someone going "OK give it a try, why don't you follow the blue tape, that's a 5.6 route, nice and easy." It was Joe, and he was talking to me.

Right. Wait, what? Step on these little things?! Well shit, the nine year-old is halfway up the goddamned thing, so I guess I'd better get moving...

Next thing I know I'm at the top, and for lack of a better thing to do I tapped the bar at the top of the climb and then Joe said something and then apparently I needed some training to descend too. (I was trying to go down the way I came up, sort-of like descending a ladder, but you're supposed to lower your butt stick your legs straight out, and enjoy the ride down.)

After riding a slide down to the lower floor, we looked for some more free ropes to continue the lesson. There were none free in the back room, so we headed toward the front, that room by the entrance. By now I had been all over the joint, and I had a decent idea of the lay of the land: we were now in the inner sanctum. The walls here often splayed away far from the vertical, the muscles on the climbers here were ripped. Chalk dust coated everything and everyone, and they all seemed to be in some sort of zone.

Joe set us up out of the way and I got some more practice belaying, lots of belaying. Taking up slack, braking the rope to arrest Joe's falls, etc. I was getting pretty comfy with all of that. And then he decided I should try another climb. In the inner sanctum.

By now I had sort-of gone into a trance of my own, the end result of being exposed to so many senses and experiences all at once. So, up I went, following the brown tape. Encouraging words from Joe in a couple spots, and... tap. Twenty feet up, I start the ride down, looking at my neighbors hanging from their own ropes, and I smile.

Sensing we are wearing out our welcome, Joe retreats us to the back room again, where we find a free line this time. A harder route still. I finally run into a dead-end. I fall off the wall trying to work it out. Joe lowers me and shows me a couple things (after all, this was supposed to be a belay class, but since I'm the only student, I get some free climbing tips in the bargain). I try again, and this time I get past that first hurdle, and past a few more, but I never make it to the top. I am done for the night, tired, but really happy. I take a look around from fifteen feet up, and glide down.

I have to go back in a couple days to do a belay test with another instructor to make sure I remember everything, but then I can rent some shoes and a harness and start climbing!