Rock Climbing

rock climbing
A thin face climb


There had to be a solution, she kept thinking, but it wasn’t jumping out at her. Nothing about the situation made any sense. The only part of it that she was certain about was that a logical person just wouldn’t act like that. Her mind was working hard to come up with an answer, even if there wasn’t one. Maybe, she continued…….. and then her train of thought was instantly broken as she stepped across and put her weight up onto her left foot, which she’d perched solidly up on the top little platform edge of a half inch thick flake of granite. She reached over to the slab, pinched a small nubbin’ of a crystal between her right thumb and index finger and then pulled herself completely up and off of the cheat boulder and onto the almost vertical 60 foot tall rock that stood apart from the others. She was then, fully committed to the climb. In that instant, she’d gone from being a psychologist to a rock climber.

The reverse move of just going back to the safety of the start was way too awkward for her, and she didn’t even consider it as a viable option as she began to feel and work her way on up. She’d noted a hump of sorts, which was now near her right knee, and planned to use it for her next foothold, which would be for her right foot. The bottom of a small crack, which had seemed promising for a left handhold from down below, proved relatively useless now that she was up there and ready to use it.

Thank God, the shoes really do edge well, she concluded. The tendons in her right hand were strong and her pinch hold on the pea-sized crystal was solid. Thankfully, she was standing on just enough of a negative slope for her foot to firmly stick on the “less than ideal” little ledge and she was able to use her left leg and body to support most of her weight and take some of the stress off of her hand. Now, she speculated, if she could just find something for her left hand, she could ease her right foot up onto the bulge which would hopefully give her even more solid footing and, once she straightened up, another couple of feet of rock to work with.

As she looked up at the surface of the rock, the sun looked back down straight into her face and almost blinded her. She realized that if she could lean back, the angle for looking up would be better and that she might be able to actually see something, but given the current positions of her hand and foot, she knew that wasn’t going to happen. And so, she wasted no time thinking about doing it and began methodically feeling her way around with her empty hand up, moving it back and forth for as high as she could reach.

As she got to a point in the exploration a couple of feet above her head, she felt the indentation of the crack and was once again reminded of how much more useless it actually was than how it’d appeared from down below. She didn’t let that thought clog her mind for long either as she continued feeling the rock with her left hand. Just past the useless crack, she felt a lessening of the angle begin to occur, and suddenly felt hopeful. And then it happened.

Her fingers ran into an abrupt edge, that was maybe an inch thick. It ran at a downward angle that wasn’t exactly perfect for grabbing with a normally positioned hand, but was something that she was confident that she could use. She thought and planned hard. Eight years of climbing experience was unfolded, analyzed, assessed, summed up and repackaged in her brain in an instant. If she chalked up her fingers well, cocked her hand to the left and could oppose her three middle fingers on the flat side against her thumb, she was sure that she could pull up on it and make the move.

And so, she dipped her left hand into her chalk bag. Her fingers, once sweaty with anticipation, came out dry and powdery. She turned her hand to the left and reached confidently up to the small, angled ledge and put three finger tips into place against the flat edge and then felt around with her thumb until it settled into a position that she could pull against.

As soon as the thumb locked into position, her tongue came out into her focus position like it always did in situations like that. She carefully moved her right foot over onto the subtle hump and began methodically shifting her weight onto it as she increasingly committed to the move.

She noted something of a chicken-head rock formation just up and out of her reach and to the right a bit, but was certain that with an extra foot of height she’d be able to reach it. That particular piece of rock had looked almost like a handle from down below, especially when compared to the thinner and more subtle holds that she’d been struggling with up to that point.

There was an actual ledge, that was maybe a foot wide and had a small bush on it that was just inches above the chicken-head and there were two big cracks along with various flakes and bulges just above that. The sum of those climbing options, if she could get up to that point, silently screamed “easier” to her. And so, with that in mind, she focused her attention on getting there.

Her gaze locked in on the chicken-head, still some three feet above. Once she’d shifted all of her weight onto her right foot and stood up, it’d be half that, and she knew it. She kept focusing her eyes on the hold that she was reaching for, all of the while carefully shifting her weight to her right side and simultaneously trusting and leaning back on her left hand.

She had to release her right pinch hold in order to be able to reach up with the right hand. If she was going to move up, there really wasn’t a choice, and so she let go and slowly began sliding it up the rock. She knew that if she hugged the rock too much while reaching and extending, her feet would fall out from under her, so was careful to lean away from the surface as much as she dared. There really was no second chance as far as she was concerned, and wasn’t going to go too fast and fall onto the belay rope. For some, having the rope for protection (just in case) was of overriding importance, but for her it had become an irritating, but useful presence.

After many climbs, she simply knew the critical value of the friction that sticky climbing shoe sole rubber created when placed against rock, the importance of the counter-pressure created by staying away from the surface and pushing your feet into the rock and could nearly always successfully assess what sorts of features her feet would stick on and that her hands and fingers could hold.

The callouses on the tips of her fingers were like sandpaper, her sinewy muscles almost popped out of her skin when she called on them to go to work and she did multiple pull-ups on her finger tips almost every day. She was confident in her climbing condition, and so, had only a handful of doubt as she continued with the move on up to the chicken-head.

As her knees almost became straight, she could feel her left grip weaken some and so backed down a bit to take the pressure off of her hand. She rotated her fingers ever so slightly and then began standing again. As she rose the second time, her right hand slid up the rock toward the big hold and she continued staring at it. This time around, as her knees straightened, her left hand felt more secure and she was able to reach up and actually touch the chicken-head.

She knew better than to just grab it, before she understood anything about it, and so explored its nuances and found it to be an almost perfect knob for wrapping her whole hand around and hanging onto. And so, at that point, she just grabbed it. The hold was solid and easy to grasp, and by leaning back on it, she was able to just let go with her other hand and press her feet firmly down and into the rock.

She took a deep breath and looked up toward her next move. The sun angle was good, mostly because she was able to lean back, and she could actually see some of what was above. The cloud build-up that she saw bothered her, but she didn’t let the next 52 feet of rock intimidate her as she looked at the ledge, pondered the cracks and considered her options. And so, she just kept climbing.

rock climbing
Lead Climbing

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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