Saturday, March 5, 2011

On Belay

What do you wear rock climbing? This is the girlie question I was asking myself as I rushed around knowing I was running late for my first rock climbing experience. As a soccer player, I’m accustomed to wearing a uniform. There is no rock climbing uni. Seriously, after stepping into the Crag X climbing gym and looking around, it became clear that anything goes – comfort appears to be the common ground. You do, however, need climbing shoes and a harness for top lining. (More on top lining later.) The rental shoes I had on were definitely akin to bowling lane rental shoes. Need I say more?

Our instructor ran through a ton of climbing lingo and began demonstrating knots we’d need to know, equipment we’d need to work, and the art of getting into your safety harness. Climbing is a dangerous sport. I suspect that in a climbing gym people are rarely seriously injured, but you do need to trust another person and equipment with your well-being.

To be honest, I was getting bored. And then suddenly, we were actually doing it. I was paired up with another beginner who had also come on his own (thank goodness, because you can’t top line alone). He had a good sense of humour and patience; all good things in your first climbing partner!

Here’s how it goes. Top lining involves a climbing rope (i.e. line) chained to the ceiling (i.e. top). The line is there in case you fall while climbing; your partner, who is belaying you, stands on the ground and keeps the line tight while you work your way up. When the climber gets to her destination she calls “Take” down to her partner. Then, once the climber hears the partner call “Got” back, the climber sits in the harness and lets her partner and the line do the work of getting her safely back to the ground. Sound easy? Some of it is. Most of it isn’t.

The first climbs we tried were deceivingly easy. That, and I wasn’t tired yet. My partner was always the first to climb, which gave me a chance to psych myself up and rest between climbs. It also meant I was always the belayer first.
(From top down) Carabiner, Gri-Gri, & line

Belay: (noun) A setup where the climber can attach him/her self to the rock with climbing equipment, creating a belay so that they can bring their second up. A belay should be able to hold a shock load.

Belay: (verb) To protect another climber from falling by using a friction creating device. When the climber falls, friction prevents the rope running through the belay device and the belayer's weight prevents the climber falling.

(Definitions courtesy of the Rock Climbing Glossary on ClimbFind.)

Funny thing is my partner was at least a foot taller than me… and I was his anchor if something went wrong. Aside from checking to make sure he was properly tied in to the line, my job as the belayer was to keep tension in the climbing line and get him slowly and safely to the ground after I yelled “Got” and “Lowering”. Keeping my feet on the ground while I lowered him down the final meter of the wall was one of my biggest challenges. A couple of times I nearly got stuck in the air beside him, also dangling in the air!

He made the climbs look pretty easy. And after my first climb I thought, “I can do this. This is so easy.” And then, because the universe doesn’t like anyone to be overconfident, we moved on to a much harder climb.

The climb we tried next involved a corner and a path that was not straight up, but rather to the left and then to the right, and then up. I was sweating mid-way, which I hadn’t anticipated. My forearms were burning. My feet were frantic, searching for a foothold. But, I made it!

After I had untied myself and was standing back to study what I’d overcome, I realized my forearms and hands felt like they were going to explode. I never use my forearms. I rarely use my arm muscles. Thank goodness I just finished a month of boxer training; I don’t know that I could have managed without all the arm work I’ve been doing. But the adrenaline and pride I felt at the bottom was awesome.

Prophesy: Climbing is going to be addictive.

It’s a challenge between you and the wall. You are in charge of your success or failure. I think I’m going to like this sport.

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