Of all the perks of owning an outdoor adventure store, (being independently wealthy is not one), my favorite is probably helping people discover the healing that exists outdoors for the first time and a close second is probably meeting fun people with whom I can do all the fun things I always want to do (yes, its sort of about me, I’m human and selfish). Today, I got to do one of the activities that has always fascinated and eluded me for a long time – climbing.
Like many other children, especially those who grew up before the age of the ubiquitous screen, be it cellphones, tablets, or computer games, being outside and climbing outside was practically part of the curriculum of life. This was especially true in Nigeria, my birth country where fruit trees where everywhere, I climbed towering Mango tree, stout Guava trees, long and lanky Papaya trees and even thorny orange trees, I was almost always off the ground playing or repositioning the antenna on the roof to get better TV reception (don’t worry young people, I know you don’t get it). Therefore, when like many immigrants, I discovered that in western countries, even adults participated in this activity for leisure, I was both flabbergasted and intrigued, where do I sign up?
Although a lot of people begin to get tired of the buzz words of diversity, inclusion and equal representation, I can personally confirm that the lack of representation in that world made the sport unapproachable for me. For starters, I did not know where to go to climb, yes, there were no climbing gyms around me, however, neither did I have any equipment ( those pointy shoes they wear, or the bag around their waist which look like coin purses in movies from the middle ages) nor did I know anyone who would take me.
This all could be remedied with a simple google search I suppose, alas the bigger unchangeable issue was that all my information about climbing came from magazine pictures and none of the people on those magazines look anything like me, with their 150 lb frames, chiseled ribs and 12-pack abs, tape-wrapped hands and the seeming ability to hold their entire body weight on their pinky finger, that looked nothing like my Clydesdale frame and thunder thighs. I subconsciously did not feel like that was a world I qualified for. All that aside, today, I was blessed enough to be going climbing for real.
Luke and Stacey stopped by the shop last week and before we knew it, we were fast friends with a day set up to go climb. A few other friends have invited me lately, unfortunately, schedules have not lined up, so I was jumping on this before the weather got too cold to do it. Another friend lent me one of those pointy, sticky shoes and a harness, so this was happening for real.
We walked from the parking lot of Rocky Gap state park (#keeppubliclandspublic) to the crag (I believe this is what a face where people climb for sport is called). It is very interesting how much thought and effort goes into safety with climbing. For the day, we would be top rope climbing, so we hiked to the top of the climb, set and anchor and ran the ropes on which we would be secured by while climbing up. At the bottom, they showed me the proper way to wear my harness, how to double-knot it. They taught me the procedures and teamwork that was needed between climber and belayer for safety, the figure-eight knot, the locking carabiners, the belaying equipment, terms like “climb on”, “Take”, “lower” to name a few, and then they watched me complete my maiden climb.
Of all the outdoors activities I do, I think I find a fundamental uniqueness in climbing. Skiing may to be the most technical and nuanced where you really need to deconstruct movements and heavily manage the relationship between what you body is doing, the equipment you have and the snow you are skiing on to get the desired result. I know that is also present in climbing, however, there seems to be more of a purity to climbing, relying more on stills and strength. I found climbing very cerebral, almost intellectual, even for a novice like me, there was something “higher” about a sport that you dont just all jump in, like a paceline or a group of friends all ripping a trail. It’s sort of a turn by turn thing, where even watching someone else climb felt like participation and also gave satisfaction to the watcher. It felt like even while on belay, the climbers actions, decisions, movements were a part of a dialogue occurring between the rock face and all the parties present.
I learnt that size definitely does not matter, rather skill trumps that, in essence climbing is an art built on the fundamentals of physics. I saw this more so in trusting and relying on your feet, rather than our arms which is customary in burly Clydesdales like me. I learnt moves like step throughs and the need to drink less adult beverages and get my core back in shape. I learnt to breath when you are stomped by a crux, and to shake out the lactic acid, trusting your equipment and climbing partner.
It was a good day, we enjoyed our local crag in our local park – Rocky Gap. We had laughs and learnt new things about ourselves and one another, we closed the evening by together enjoying an amazing sunset as is common in this corner of the Appalachian mountains this time of the year. I hope for more days like these, and pine to bring others along.
I got to cross my first climbing experience off the bucket list and started scheming of how to work a climbing shoe into my Christmas wish list.
Look out for more information on the newly formed Western Maryland Climbers Coalition, We must organize and make the changes we want to see.
It was a good day , no a great one indeed.