Sunday, November 22, 2009


(PHOTO: The right end of a banner by Pablo Piccasso, "Guernica" 1937)

Well, it finally happened. While climbing Sunday afternoon, I asked a fellow climber, Zach The New Guy (our climbing community has a lot of Zachs in it), for a belay. He's been climbing a bit longer than myself, always shows up with his buddy, Dave, and seemed to know what he was doing. I was projecting the "Cold Hands" route, a 5.7 masterpiece in the corner of our wall, requiring stemming, smearing, and all kinds of nouns turned into verbs.

The route begins in an alcove, and one must learn to use the features on and off the wall, including a nice little foot hold chipped out of the brick - the fringe of our wall's construction. I've worked really hard to get out from under the alcove, reach above it, and begin that corner ascent. When I left the house today, I had high hopes of completing this route and adding it to my "Notches in My Harness" list.

But Karma is a cruel mistress and Fate a miserable thing. My success was not to be. I blame a few things: 1) I had skipped lunch inadvertently, while working on student papers; 2) I came to the route cold, without doing the now boring 5.6 warm-up; and 3) An overall sense of my head not being in "the game."

Even as I began my ascent, having gained a sense of the rhythm required for the first five moves (I tend to think of climbing as a vertical dance - each route has a beat of its own), I was on autopilot. That was my first mistake. I was thinking about the paper I have to write for the graduate theory course I'm taking, about Fredrich Hegel, Nietzsche, and Jacques Derrida. Philosopher kings held royal court in my mind, and I knew I was in trouble when I instinctively used my hip to smear, to gain any sort of leverage I could.

Both hands in a nice bucket of a hold, hip wedged against the lip of the alcove, and reaching for the next hold, I couldn't do it. Not a huge deal to jump from a foot above the bouldering line, but to sort of plummet without purpose kinda sucks. The trouble was, my belay hadn't taken up the requisite slack. The rope was loose and though he tried to spare me the inevitable, I hit the mat hard - really hard. And fast.

Don't hate the new guy: I should have told him to take in the slack, and I would have had my head been on straight.

Fortunately, I hit the ground feet first before falling back on my butt. Unfortunately, I bounced a good three times creating a marvelous cloud of chalk in my wake. If it hadn't been so damn funny to me, the bouncing, the cloud, the fact I had skidded to a stop on my butt in front of a bunch of people who were looking on, slack-jawed, I would have been scared out of my mind. A quick ass-essment let me know I hadn't broken anything but my pride. Even as Zach The New Guy rushed up to apologize, even as he felt the first pangs of responsibility, I howled with laughter.

I don't think, in retrospect, that my laughter was maniacal ... but it could have been.

Not many can drop E.F.R. on her ass and live to tell about it. So I'll consider Zach's current lively state as proof I have a charitable heart. All the same, my back and neck are killing me now. I held office hours at the Coffee House, then I took a hot shower when I got home. I iced my lower back before putting on the heat. I can already feel the stiffness settling in, and this makes me nervous.

I'm leaving for Wisconsin in a couple of days, and have scheduled a climbing day at Madison's Boulders Gym. The plan: Climb as much as I can and review the facilities for P'UP. Boulders has 8,000 square feet of simulated rock routes and I'm eager to see them. I want to see how I fare at a place outside of the Rec, and put my limited skill to the test.

But if I've jacked my back, that plan could go up in anti-inflammatory gel caplets. I have no choice but to take-er-easy until then.

I'm really bummed out. Not only did the climbing day suck for me (the rest of the day was shot - I couldn't shake the fall), I didn't get to project the 5.8. I've been making great progress with that route, even as it demands so much grunting and power-thrust happiness. I'm training hard because I have a goal: I want to go on an April trip to Shelf Road in Colorado. I want to go, even though I know I'm going to have to work on that whole peeing outside business.

I did learn some important lessons today. I'll stick to my trusted belays for now, won't climb unless I'm totally focused, and I will make sure I've eaten so I don't feel so sacked. Rookie mistakes, all, but mine all the same.

But hey, that's what I am. And a good fall had to happen eventually. I guess it's a good thing my first solid fall was at the gym, and that my coping strategy for fear is laughter. That's kinda cool, really. I guess it's my inner self demanding of the universe, "Bring it on, wha-ha-ha-ha!"

Or, I've lost my mind. Too early to tell.


  1. UPDATE: I feel pretty good today. I worried for naught. So I'll head back to the wall tonight to get back on that horse. I don't want fear to settle in and prevent me from getting that route.

  2. In my years of climbing, I've only dropped people 27 times.

  3. Love you woman! You are amazing! Glad you are feeling good enough to climb.

    I was just catching up on P'Up. It's so great to read about everything you are learning and gaining from climbing. Also how you are spreading the climbing joy and empowerment around the world (er Lincoln) is amazing. I have taken two newbs in the past month and they both have found it to be pretty cool.

    I loved your blog about falling in love with climbing and how it's raised your standards for whom you date. Don't settle! You are at least an 5.11d.

    Hope you have a happy thanksgiving and I look forward to reading about Madison's Boulders Gym.

  4. Thanks, Lizz. I'll post my review of Boulders Gym when I get home ... I climbed the hell out of that place.

  5. Adam, I should have known you were a butter fingers belay kind of guy. ;-)


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