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)