Last weekend I tried rock climbing for the first time. Feeling a tinge of nostalgia for the many Labor Day weekends spent sitting around campfires, I signed up to play leap frog on some sheer vertical cliffs with a hiking group I found on Meetup.com. I was able to hitch a ride to the cliffs with one member who graciously offered a front seat in his car. Five minutes into the trip a backseat rider asked, "Can I cut my toe nails?" Two hours into the trip, I awoke from a pleasant morning slumber to the sight of a beautiful sloping New Paltz, NY. Our first stop was a rock climbing rental place to pick up shoes and helmets. A 15-minute drive from town brought us to our final destination, a collection of cliffs in the Mohonk Preserve referred to as the Gunks.
Before attempting the climb, several instructors ran through the basics: how to tie a figure-eight rope, how to belay, names for basic climbing equipment, and the signal calls between climber and belayer. I eventually learned that each cliff is rated on a scale going from 5.1 to 5.15 with 5.15 being the hardest. My first climb was a 5-5.
Not too shabby for a first-timer, according to my instructor, even though I screamed the whole way down.
I felt so invigorated, and so relieved. My second and third climbs didn't turn out quite so successfully. I barely made it 10 minutes into both before my muscles started pulsating and shaking out of weakness. And yet, most of the pros climbed like it was nobody's business, going to the top again and again and again. Everyone from the group was so good-natured, it was hard to feel bad about my novice status on such a beautiful summer day. I think I could get used to this sport, even if it involves looking for tiny crevices in a gigantic piece of rock to support my entire body weight and offset the downward crushing blows of gravity.