I loved today’s rock climbing session. The people, the problems, the progress.
My Climbing Introduction
I started climbing in February. My boyfriend introduced me to it, and I was so nervous. I don’t consider myself strong. I do consider myself weak. I feared making a fool of myself because at this time, we were also still just dating. He reassured me that I had the right frame for it. And he said that climbing was great because it involved puzzles that were for both your mind and body.
Turns out, I loved it more than anything else I’ve ever done. Or tied with the one other activity I’ve loved this much—country line dancing at Nashvilles in Rochester, NY. Living in California and New York City, I haven’t gotten to go to Nashvilles much. But rock climbing was right in NYC! These gyms are pretty common, as far as I understand.
On Rock Climbing
So today I was at The Cliffs—The Cliffs at LIC to be exact. And I wanted to do this red 5.8 problem I didn’t finish last time. For the unenlightened, climbing has types: bouldering and top-roping. Bouldering is where one climbs relatively short walls with only one’s body and climbing shoes. Top-roping is where one wears a harness and is attached to a rope that someone is controlling. They are being belayed by the belayer. And then for when one wants to top-rope but doesn’t have a belayer, there are some auto-belays where the rope is attached to a device that controls a fall.
Now for the levels, bouldering is around the range of V0 to V15. Most good climbers, as far as I understand, are able to do V10s and V11s. I think those over that are experts. Though really, the experts are those doing the hardest climbs that are usually top-roped without any gear. For more on that, look up Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, and the movies Dawn and Free Solo. Anyway, the levels for top-roping are around 5.5 to 5.15, I think. The first number indicated steepness, so five basically means a vertical wall. The second number indicates difficulty.
So I was working on an auto-belay. Last time I came, I had tried this red 5.8 at the end of my visit. I got stuck at this one spot more than three quarters of the way up, but I figured I knew what I had to do. I just needed to not be so tired to do it. So today I came back, ready to get my revenge.
Turns out, I was just stuck. It wasn’t a matter of being tired. I was climbing in the evening rather than the morning, so I may have been tired; but that was unlikely to be the reason I was stuck.
What got me was a point where I had my foot on this nice big rock, and I could put my other foot on it two. There were three, um, inverted jugs in a row above that where I could hold on. These jugs were upside down, so I held it with my palms up rather than palms down as I would on the nice jugs I was still used to. Maybe jugs is actually the wrong term because these rocks weren’t that nice. There are terms for these rocks. I haven’t learned them all yet.
My next move had to be getting to a jug quite a bit above me. There were no other nice holds I could use to keep going forward. Standing with both feet on the big rock, around me there was a foothold to my left, a tiny one right above the big rock, and a jug to my right and about at my knee level. I’m leaving out distances here, but that’s the basic idea. At about hip level, were the row of inverted jugs. And to the right, there were a couple of jugs, one easier to reach than the other. There was also a tiny hold to the very right that was annoying. I don’t think I can do much with those yet because they’re so tiny. There was also a tiny foothold to my left at about knee level.
From here, I tried many ways to continue. I initially thought I could get my left foot on the leftmost foothold, and then while holding a couple of inverted jugs, I would raise my right foot to the tinier foothold above. However, I could not hold on. Balance was hard, holding on was hard, and my center of gravity was away from the wall. I fell. I tried putting my right foot on the small foothold above and keeping my left on the big rock. I could raise myself to the right height, but now both my hands were holding me up with the jugs. The jug I wanted was still above me. I tried reaching for it, but I fell instead, unable to hold myself.
As I kept attempting and falling, I eventually decided to catch myself on the big rock with my hands to just keep trying this one part, rather than falling all the way down as usual.
I tried the same strategy a few more times. I figured I needed a leap of faith. Raise myself and grab the jug. I needed to hold on with my fingers. I needed to believe I would and not hope I could. However, despite my multiple tries, I’d start falling before I could get my arm up. Then even if my fingers got to the jug, I wouldn’t be able to grip it. I’d be falling and continue doing so.
I didn’t see another way. The right foothold at knee-level didn’t seem right. I could get my foot there, but I couldn’t put my weight on it in a way that would let me get to the left jug I wanted.
Asking for Help
I decided to start asking fellow climbers for help. The first person I asked, if I remember correctly, advised me to step onto the little foothold above the big rock, telling me that it would be easier to hold myself up when the inverted jugs were below my hips, rather than above it. I went up, considered that, and tried raising myself… to no avail.
I proceeded to ask a worker for help. I went to the main desk and asked a lady if she could give me advice on a problem that was really bothering me. She suggested I twist my hips into the wall and that that would give me more reach. I tried that, and I got closer. My fingertips touched the jug, but only the bottom of it! I was so close, but I needed to grip it for it to be any good.
No matter which ways I tried orienting myself and balancing myself, I could not reach. The leap of faith I was trying, called a dyno (dynamic move) wasn’t working for me. I also thought there should be an easier way.
My height was a disadvantage here. Taller people could easily reach what I was struggling for. Heights have their own advantages and disadvantages though, and history shows that anyone can climb great if they really work for it. Look up Lynn Hill.
I noticed that one guy kept working a problem on the same wall I was on. We kept switching off. He was attempting a purple 5.10b (the higher levels are broken down further with letters) while I was doing the red 5.8. At one point, I asked him if he saw what I was trying to do. He did and tried to tell me how he did it. However, he couldn’t remember and decided to do it, so he could show me. His height was an advantage though. When he came down and as we discussed further, another guy overheard us and gave it a shot himself. It was his first attempt at this, and he was about my height. This was great. If he could do it, I could try to do the same thing and should be able to do it.
He got stuck like me. So Joseph, the taller guy I was talking to, tried it again. Turns out the other guy was also named Joseph. So there was a taller and shorted Joseph. I don’t actually know if they spell their names the same way, but it sounds the same.
As taller Joseph investigated our issue, he realized he didn’t know how to do it if he was shorted. He tried to find a way, but he acknowledged that was a hard problem for shorter heights.
This turned into a lot of attempts and frustration between me and shorter Joseph. Taller Joseph was frustrated with this problem that had a bunch of crimps (tiny holds) and slopers (holds that I still don’t know how to grab onto—to me, it seems like trying to grab onto a round ball). He could get to one spot, and then didn’t know how to go from there.
I had now been with this problem for over an hour. I told shorter Joseph everything I learned so far. I showed him how I could twist my hips and get close but not enough.
From there, he had an idea. He went up, put his left foot on the left foothold, got his right foot on the smaller foothold above, and then raised himself. From there, he was able to go forward! He finished the route. Yay shorter Joseph!
I promptly went up to try myself. I didn’t feel good with my left foot on the foothold, so first I got my right foot on the little foothold above. I was able to raise myself to the right height, but again, I fell! Grrr.
I thought I knew what went wrong. I spoke with smaller Joseph to confirm. I inquired as to which of the three inverted jugs he used when he raised himself. I had tried with the outer ones. He used the leftmost and middle ones. I figured that would work better, so, now having that confirmed, I went up yet again. When there, I held onto the left two inverted jugs, got my right foot in place, then my left foot, and I was up. And somehow, I was balanced enough to grab the next jug! I knew I could do the rest of it, so I quickly did the last bit and completed this annoying monster of a problem!
I had done about 25 attempts of this problem. Maybe more. It was so satisfying to record as completed.
I had asked taller Joseph about his purple problem. And after I got done, another person was doing that purple. As Joseph and I watched, he saw how he did it. He got his left leg to get to a big jug Joseph was already trying to get to. He simply hadn’t been able to. Seeing this, he proclaimed, “Oh, I just need to be better. That’s how you do it. I figured it out!”
Awwwww Joseph. Sigh. Just need to be better. He was joking and knew he probably needed to let go of the problem until the next day. He walked away, shorter Joseph tried some other auto-belay problems, and I decided to go for another problem I had tried before and thought I could do this time around.
I wasn’t planning on having the same experience. I really wanted to try. So I walked over to this pink V2 bouldering problem. It was really interesting to me, as it was in a corner, and there were a couple boulders on the left wall and the a couple on the right wall higher up. To go up, I had to grab onto a rock and put my feet against the wall. I wasn’t on any rock, just wall. Just pushing my weight against it.
To my pleasant surprise, I made my way up and got to the final hold that let me claim success. As I was high up and on a wall that sloping in a way I wasn’t used to—with the lower wall angling such that it seemed I would fall into the wall if I fell—I was unsure how to get down. Usually, I could clearly jump down because the wall angled away such that I wouldn’t fall on the wall. I readjusted my position and acknowledged that if I jumped, I’d need to push away a bit from the wall. I didn’t see a way to climb down. So after being scared for a few seconds, I jumped, fell on my knees, and rolled back, as I’d been taught. Yay! I did it! I finished the problem. And it was the first V2 I’d completed at The Cliffs.
I was satisfied and tired. Sweeeeeeet. Time to go home.