Those of you who know me know that I spend two to three days a week at the rock climbing gym, mostly toproping. But every now and then I make it outside (this year less than most due to the wedding) to climb some real rock. This year I’ve been on trips to Red Rocks, Owens River Gorge and Mammoth. Usually I make several weekend trips to Tahoe, but I haven’t been yet this year. I came back from the hot springs (after the wedding) so relaxed and focused that I had no desire to plan any climbing trips. All I wanted to do was read and write, so I set a three hours/day writing goal for myself (that’s another story). Anyway, some friends of mine planned a climbing trip this past weekend to Mammoth and, although I wasn’t at ALL in the mood to lead (and I told everyone that), I ended up doing a lot of leading anyway. It was all sport and nothing too difficult but I hadn’t led since our trip to Owens in June, so I was a bit scared. I led a 5.7, 5.8, 5.9 and two 5.10as the first day. The second I did just one 5.9 but it was tougher than the first day, and scary. The last day I did a 5.8 and a long, hard 5.9 before it was time to go home. That last 5.9 was long and pumpy and definitely scary. I define a “scary” climb, by the way, as a climb I have a good chance of taking a lead fall on. I’ve never taken a lead fall outside, and I know I’d be a better climber if I got used to them because then I’d take more risks, but until I do, I’m going to avoid them at all costs. (I’ve thought about taking practice falls, to get used to them the way I have in the gym, but practice falls are so much scarier than real falls.) Here’s an idea of what it’s like to lead a “scary” climb: On the last 5.9 I did the first bolt was so high that I knew I might not make it up before I chickened out and downclimbed. But I was up so high by the time I got scared that it would have been even scarier to downclimb. (You really CAN’T fall before the first clip because you’re not on rope yet and falling would mean likely breaking a bone or spraining an ankle or worse. One guy I know who fell before the first clip broke both wrists and cracked his head open. He’s okay now, but he was out of work for four months and went from climbing 5.11s to 5.7s.) Anyway, back to the 5.9: There was a closer clip, slightly lower than mine, that led up an .11a. So I went a little higher and clipped that one before climbing up to my clip. The top was a little scary, too. It was a long climb and I didn’t take any rests, so I got to this one point where I had my right hand on a hold and needed to clip left, and I didn’t have the strenth to switch hands. It was a long fall and I was in a corner, so there was a chance I’d hit a wall if I fell. So I panicked and downclimbed all the way back to the previous clip. I hung there for a good five minutes while my forarms throbbed. The choice was to finish the climb, lose all my gear (six quickdraws x $12= $72) or ask some strange to lead it for me (pretty embarrassing.) So after hanging there for a few minutes, I said a prayer (yes, this is when I believe in God, when I desperately need help with something) to get up to that damn clip without falling, and I did it much easier the second time. Then the top was a little scarier. Off to the right was a big flake that looked like it may not hold if I hung my body weight from it, so I decided to go up left. The holds were good off to the left but led me away from the anchor, so I had to stem back and stretch a bit to get it. I did it, though, then came down and toproped it to see how difficult it really was. Definitely a long, pumpy climb.
In other news, my friend Aditi led her first outdoor climbs, including a 5.7 on the first day and a 5.8 on the third. I have to say I was quite impressed because I knew Aditi back when she did her first climb in the gym and she was terrified to toprope a 5.6. And while she still doesn’t have her lead card in the gym, I had mine LONG before I led outside, so I’d had lots of practice falling indoors before leading anything on real rock. Kudos to her. I’m proud.
We had quite the international group on this trip- too bad we didn’t get a photo: two French men, a Spanish man, an Italian couple, a German man, a Romanian woman, a Chinese woman, an Indian woman and six Americans. And thanks to Michael (who’s French), I now know how to say “belay” and “lead” in French.