“Are you locked in?”
It was a simple question, but the answer held my life in the balance. Literally.
Jen looked at me with her sparkly eyes and confidently replied, “Yes, ma’am,” pushing out her pelvis so I could double-check her line. I tugged on her carabiner only to find it still unlocked. Now I was freaked out.
When Jen had heard that I was planning to go out to Red Rock for rock-climbing adventures, she offered to take me to The Nevada Climbing Center for my birthday. I happily accepted, figuring it would be good experience and give me a baseline of my strength and capability for future endeavors. Plus hanging with Jen was like having a Care Bear with you (let’s call her Funshine Bear). Her positive and can-do attitude would make the experience all the more enjoyable.
However, after this safety check snafu, I reconsidered my companion choice. Perhaps I should have come with someone who knew how to clasp themselves into a harness?
“Are you serious? You were going to let me start climbing like this?” We both laughed at the situation but I was regretting my over-enthusiasm about climbing first.
We chose the beginner wall for a warm-up. Taking a deep breath and resigning to faith in our equipment, I reached for my first holds. There was nowhere to go but up. As I pulled myself up the wall, I wondered if Jen was enjoying the view from below.
The owners had placed a cowbell at the top of the wall so that us newbies would have some reinforcement for our efforts. When I reached it, I happily rang it and added a “Whoohoo,” for good measure.
The next step was leaning back to give Jen my weight to repel down. I hesitated.
“Are you sure you’re locked in?” I called, looking down at her smile.
“Yes, you can lean back.”
Leave it to me to pick now to start questioning the strength of our safety line. I stalled another moment, watching the climber on the wall next to me lean back and float down to the ground. I had repelled down the face of a dam before, but this was different. Funshine Bear hadn’t clipped in her carabiner properly and now I was questioning her judgment. What if I leaned back and fell? I really didn’t want to die on my birthday (that seemed like some pretty tragic irony), but I really didn’t have any other option. I had to trust my climbing partner otherwise today would be a wash and I wouldn’t get to swing my legs while she lowered me down. Closing my eyes, I leaned back.
I let out a squeal but was pleasantly surprised to find I didn’t fall forty-some feet to my death. Hitting only a couple of hitches on the way down, I landed on the padded floor with a, “Hurray!” Jen and I high-fived, celebrating our non-fatal attempt at the rock wall and swapping carabiners. I hooked into the belay device. It was her turn to sweat it out.
Jen kept hitting the loose finger and foot-holds. I took this opportunity to jest about her safety (which was wrong… but sometimes I can’t help myself). I safely got her down and we did another success cheer. The other climbers gave us looks as we hooted and hollered but we didn’t care. We unhitched our harnesses and did a happy dance.
Since we had successfully climbed one beginner wall, we thought that it was time to move to something more challenging (we’re nothing if not realists). One of the instructors was hanging nearby and watched us carefully as we chose another wall to scale.
“You’re going to try that one?” He asked apprehensively, leaning against a neighboring rock wall. “Didn’t you say this was your first time?”
I looked at him blankly, “Yeah. We did the other wall, so why not?” Jen hooked herself into the belay device.
“Well, this wall is harder for beginners. I just don’t want you getting discouraged.”
I smiled at him and then nodded at Jen, “Challenge accepted.” This wasn’t 127 Hours, just a rock wall. Worst came to worst, Jen could lower me down. After checking her harness for my own mental sanity, I grabbed the nearest finger-hold.
Fueled by sheer determination, I got up the wall in record time. I couldn’t help but gloat a little on the way down. Challenge completed; the instructor clapped. “I’m impressed; I didn’t think you were going to do it. Are you guys gymnasts or something?”
“Nope. We’re UNLV students.”
We climbed a few more walls, but we were both exhausted. I didn’t think that climbing would be so tiring, but I guess it should have occurred to me since all the other climbers were super buff. As if anticipating our needs, the climbing floor was equipped with giant beanbag chairs to crash in.
After gossiping for a while, Jen and I attempted some bouldering. As I would learn, bouldering is a form of climbing requiring total body control and no fear of dangling upside down. While you don’t climb higher than twelve feet, you scale uniquely formed routes called ‘problems’. I kind of enjoyed hanging onto my ‘problems’, whatever that psychologically says about me.
After our bouldering experience, Jen and I climbed a few more walls. My fingers were starting to hurt and her arms were aching. Even though we kept yelling, “Suck it up,” at each other and laughing at our girlishness, we knew we were reaching the end of our climbing day.
We returned our equipment on a high. We had spent three hours working up a sweat and making new friends. Although I wasn’t boarding down a volcano or swimming with sea lions, indoor climbing was an experience worth having. The level of trust and communication necessary to make climbing enjoyable was a feat in itself. The fact that the other climbers’ experience and buff bods were worth marveling at was just a bonus.
When Cute Guy from behind the counter asked if we’d be coming back, I looked at Funshine. We let out a giggle and synchronized, “Yes.”
Sometimes I can’t help being a girl.