No, I’m good, I think I’ll climb down now

I’m hanging in a rope harness 20 feet above the floor. My hands and feet are sweaty, my heart is pounding. I know if I look down, or up, or anywhere, I’m done. Now it’s time to let go of the wall. This is the hard part. Most of the time I’m able to do it, although I have been known to climb back down, rather than  make myself let go of the wall and belay down. In fact, almost every time I’m up there I think about just climbing back down. But Steve, the philosopher climbing wall guy usually talks me out of it. So I let go of the wall, grab the rope and experience two seconds of terror as Philosopher Steve starts to belay me down. Once I’m past the letting go part, then I’m usually okay the rest of the way down, and mange to land on my feet.

So, you might ask, why is Huffygirl subjecting herself to such terror? Is this some strange kind of initiation ceremony? Some crazy office team building exercise? Is Huffygirl stuck in a horrible Ground Hog Day type dream where she must relive her most terrifying day over and over and over? No, this is my regular Wednesday night workout – climbing the 20 foot rock wall at my gym.

Before my gym installed the Rockwerx wall, I’d always thought that climbing

Philosopher Steve

 was for strong, elite athletes, which naturally meant that I was not qualified. I’d watch other people do it, all the while my palms sweating and heart pounding, glad to presume that I probably was not strong enough to even try it. But one night I wandered over to the wall and no one was climbing. Philosopher Steve was waiting for someone to belay and had nothing better to do than convince me I should give it a try. So I did. I stepped into the harness, clipped in to Steve’s belay line and started up. Turns out I was good enough and strong enough to climb, despite being terrified of the height. About 8 feet up I figured I’d had enough, but Steve kept egging me on with witty banter and sage encouragement, which earned him his current nickname, Philosopher Steve. About three feet from the top I was ready to quit, but Steve’s coaxing convinced me to go the rest of the way. Then came the terrifying part. I had to let go of the wall in order to belay down. Now logic dictates that there was nothing inherently safer about holding onto the wall than not holding on to it, but logic had been pushed aside by fear long before I got that far. I’m in a harness; even if I started to fall off the wall the safety mechanism would catch me. Short of a malfunction in the harness at precisely the same time that Steve unexpectedly dropped dead at the bottom, there is no way to fall or get hurt. Yet, here I am, afraid to let go.

And the next Wednesday night I was back. And the next. Some twisted logic was telling me it was good to challenge myself and made me come back each week, but it’s hard. Harder than giving up chocolate or trying to figure out which way is north, or speaking in public. Yet, I keep doing it.

So simple a child can do it!

The climbing part is getting easier, although I still stick to the easiest route. My arms are stronger, I should be proud that I’m getting better. But the trouble is, I still can’t let go when I get to the top. As climbing walls go, this one is pretty tame. It’s only (only!) 20 feet, with three routes. Anyone who’s really into climbing would think it pretty lame. The little kids on family day scramble up and auto-belay down, falling flat on the mat and getting up to do it again. But it’s not tame to me.

Soon my climbing career may be coming to an abrupt end. My gym has decided that it’s too expensive to staff the climbing wall with belaying assistants. Instead climbers must take a climbing safety class, then will be on their own. No coaxing climbing guru to help you on your way. You can bring someone to belay for you, or use the auto-belay, which takes you down so fast that inexperienced climbers, and those paralyzed with fear like me, end up falling at the bottom. I tried it once and have been too terrified to try it again. 

Steve and Huffygirl

But Philosopher Steve is coaxing me back. I climb up three feet, auto-belay down and Steve is there spotting me so I don’t fall. Then four feet, then five. This poor guy should be nominated for sainthood. Is that smile on his face when he greets me genuine, or does he have to paste it on whenever I come by. “Not HER again,” any sane person would be thinking. But not Steve, with the patience of Job,  and the good nature of a  puppy.

What do YOU do to challenge yourself? Who is your Philosopher Steve?

(Photos by Huffygirl)

24 thoughts on “No, I’m good, I think I’ll climb down now

  1. I LOVE this! I always secretly wanted to try this and then eventually moved onto another gym that doesn’t have a wall. I can’t do a pull up to save my life, and I can only imagine scaling a wall! They have one a boomers amusement park, but I only see little kids on it and an adult (especially an inexperience one) woul look ridiculous. I’d take too long and people would get upset waiting in line! 🙂

    Glad you are facing your fear of heights? That’s what it seemed like. I’m sure being at the top feels a lot higher than when looking at if from the ground. KEEP GOING! 🙂


    • Thanks Sandi – yes it is a fear of heights. I’m going to keep at it I think, but it will be harder without Steve there to cheer me on. I thought I would not be able to climb because I too (and most women) am unable to do a pull-up. Turns out your arms don’t need to be that as strong as you might think, because you’re also pushing yourself up with your feet.

      I took the climbing class last night – the climbing part I can do as well as most people, even some of the guys that were there. It’s the coming down part that lacks finesse.

  2. Wow, you are now officially my hero. I am terrified of heights. Even when I am playing computer games where you move your avatar around, I can’t make myself (herself) go up steep inclines. If by chance I do get to the top somehow (usually by magical intervention), I stay well away from the edge, because looking down makes me dizzy.

    I once managed IRL to climb a ladder to the bare top of a one-storey house to hand a hammer to a friend who was reshingling the roof. I could only peek over the edge of the roof and holler at him to come and get the hammer. Climbing down was one of my worst nightmares, especially since the ladder was a wee bit wobbly. When I got to the bottom, I was nauseated for an hour afterwards.

    So, for you, also with a fear of heights, to accomplish this feat is nothing short of amazing.

    Keep it up, girl. One day you will achieve the ultimate in graceful belaying!

    • Thanks Sandra. It’s nice to hear someone validate my fear of height. I know there are a lot of us out there, but you usually don’t hear people talk about it. I’m the same way with video games too – my avatar has a hard time jumping across any open pit – she’s afraid she’ll fall.

  3. Thank God you are ok! I’m glad you will still be writing your blog because your first sentence was scary–it sounded like a suicide note!

      • Well, I did change it from “rope” to “rope harness” after John’s alarming comment. Didn’t want anyone to think that Huffygirl had bought the farm, although then who would have written the post?

  4. I think it’s great that you keep at it. This post reminded me of a childhood incident that is now, of course, a family joke. I must have been about seven. I climbed the ladder on a very tall water slide into a campground pool. When I got to the top and saw how high I was above the water (not to mention I have always been afraid of going under water, so what the hell was I thinking in the first place), I decided there was no way I was sliding down. My dad was at the bottom calling out to me and I just sat there kicking my feet against the slide and refusing to go. Finally, all the kids lined up behind me had to back down the ladder so I could climb down. It’s bad enough that everyone remembers this, but there’s also movie pictures that have now conveniently been converted to a modern format and can be “enjoyed” at any time. 😐

    • Margaret, I know exactly how you felt. Although, at least you were seven when this happened and I’m, ahem, an adult. Thanks for sharing your story. Hey, maybe you’ll want to put the video clip in your blog 🙂

  5. Not really afraid of heights, but no arm strength. What I would like to do is a zip line! (I was going to call it a relay-line thingy, but found the term just in time.)

    • I know you’re not afraid of heights. I think it was your making me ride the Ferris Wheel with you when we were kids that started me down that path.

      I was thinking about writing a blog about zip lining, but I guess I would have to do it first. So if you try if first maybe you can write it.

  6. I love Steve! It’s so cool that you two found each other. I know you think he is thinking “not her again”, but I don’t think so. People like him need people to coax…otherwise all they get is smart-ass people who think they know everything and they don’t value Steve. Get it?

    Once they stop paying him, maybe you could offer to give him coffee coupons (or something like that) to give you 30 minutes a week (or month) of encouragement?

    • I think you’re right about that. I have updated news on the climbing wall – they’re getting rid of the other assitants but keeping Steve on Wednesday nights. So I’ll still be able to climb under his encouragement.

      BTW, Steve will be appearing on my blog again this Saturday I think.

  7. I’m such a scardy cat too. I had the chance to try a climbing wall once and from the ground it looked unimpressive. But halfway up it seemed to get taller. I didn’t think I was scared of heights, but I guess I am.

    • Well, at least you tried. And when your head is half way up the wall, think of how far up you got! Think of all the people who were too scared to even try it.

      I keep working away at it – poor Steve! He’s still working there on Wednesday nights, and uses his philosopher wisdom to keep coaxing me along.

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