Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Climbing Past my Fears

This past Sunday, I finally accomplished something I'd been trying to do since before freshman year: I went rock-climbing! As soon as I found out about the Wilderness Program (now the Adventure Sports Center in Alumni Hall), I decided that I wanted to try rock-climbing. New Jersey has plenty of good hiking spots, but to an unexperienced climber, nowhere to go to learn. Luckily for me, Vermont is very cliff-friendly. My plans did not work out last year, but this time around, I succeeded. By the end of the day, I was completely and utterly exhausted, but felt like my self-esteem had gone through that metaphorical roof.

The corner with the trees was my second climb route - just left of the edge of this picture was my first. 
My last climb - up a wet and mossy corner crack. Such an arm workout!
My last climb ended on a ledge; I then rappelled down 50 feet to the ground.
If you already are an outdoors person or want to be more of one, the Adventure Sports Center is the perfect place to do that. Plenty of day trips are offered throughout the seasons - rock-climb in the fall, then ice-climb in the winter - for everything from a beginner's hike to a kayaking trip on Lake Champlain. Trips are small; my rock-climbing trip only had six people, not counting the instructors, so don't worry about getting lost in a crowd. Any gear you don't already own is provided for free; most day trips cost $10-$15. Not bad for such an amazing experience!

When I saw the first two climbing routes our instructors (Trish, Lindsey, and Andrea - who also co-owns the Petra Cliffs climbing gym) set up, I had a minor, (hopefully) internal freakout. I knew we would be climbing on actual rocks - not those handily screwed-in, brightly colored "rocks" that I now know are called jugs - but subconsciously I think I was hoping for handholds to magically appear. Obviously, they didn't. Rocks don't do that. After putting off starting twice, I finally did it. I may not have gotten very high (cold rock = numb hands), but by my last climb, while I was far from an expert I was much more confident in what my body could really do. 

On my way up on my last climb - thanks for the picture, Andrea!
I am fine with the concept of heights and looking off high places, but the prospect of falling terrifies me. Not the best mindset for something where you are literally hanging on a cliff. But by my last climb, I was still scared to fall (even though I was roped in, so I couldn't, really), but was also able to more easily find handholds and trust my rope (and myself). I definitely owe that to my instructors. With the perfect balance of encouragement and the occasional boost with the rope, they helped me push my boundaries without making me feel like I was free-falling past them. I think that's a defining characteristic of our Adventure Sports instructors; I had the same experience on a snow hike last February. 

Rappelling off the ledge - behind that smile I was freaking out. Thank you, Andrea for the peptalk and the picture!
The last climbing-related activity I did was rappelling. To be honest, I found that harder mentally than the climbing itself. When you rappel, you are belaying yourself - that means you control the amount of slack in the rope and therefore how fast you descend the rock. When I was climbing, someone else belayed me; for rappelling, although Andrea had a belay rope attached as a safety measure, I was in full control of what was happening. 

As I said, I hate the idea of falling, so convincing myself that walking backwards off a ledge while secured only by a rope and harness was a good idea was more than a bit of a struggle. But I did it, and in the process, I learned to trust myself. Sensing a theme here?

We hiked to the top of the cliff for lunch - what a view!
Although three days later my muscles are still making themselves known, I have no regrets about having tried something new. I don't know if I'll ever be a hardcore climber, but this trip taught me that something "scary" can still be fun, even if you've never done it before - I'll definitely be climbing again in the future. I really encourage you to try something that pushes you out of your comfort zone - the benefits of overcoming that small fear are totally worth it.


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