Things I Know 304 of 365: It’s important to trust the rope

‘Tis not enough to help the feeble up, but to support them after.

– William Shakespeare

When my friend Adam and I climb together, Adam comments on how fast I climb, and I comment on how contemplative his climbing appears from my stance belaying him on the ground.

Thursday, Adam and I went climbing with our friend Julie.

It was the first time I’d had anything to compare to Adam’s style of climbing.

Julie has been taking dance classes for the last 27 years. She climb’s with the grace and elegance of a dancer. As odd as it may sound, she knows her feet better than any other climber I’ve seen – knows what they can do and climbs with an understanding of how they work in relation to the rest of her body.

With a strong upper body, Adam’s climbing starts in his torso and arms. He grips and hangs and waits as he  contemplates his next move.

Watching either of them approach a climb helps me better understand how I will attempt the same route.

It helps me better understand, but it doesn’t show me the way I will climb. I do not have Adam’s upper-body strength or Julie’s surefootedness. From marathon training, my feet know the repetition of moving forward and my legs know the enduring power necessary to support the effort. While I adopt pieces of what Adam and Julie bring to the wall, my skills and strengths are not theirs.

But that is the physical.

Thursday, Julie fell – several times – over and over.

Like me, she prefers to move quickly up the wall. Her approach, though, is a model of the ideal of the design process, fail often and as quickly as possible. It was amazing to see.

After I lowered her to the ground after she successfully completed the first route, I commented on the fact that she would jump for holds more often than Adam or I. Her falling wasn’t a result of weaknesses, it was a result of the passion with which she approached the climb.

“There’s a rope,” Julie answered, “I figured I might as well use it.”

Not often do I get to recognize the moment I’m changing my mind and understanding of something.

I didn’t trust the rope. My climbs to that point had included a visualization of the rope as something that was there for safety. If something went wrong on my climb, the rope was there.

Julie thought of the rope as one of the tools there to help her on her climb.

With each jump, she was acknowledging she might not make it, but trusting that the rope would hold her in place to pick up from where she’d left off.

I’d never done that. The rope was there to ensure I’d be fine if I lost my grip, but I’d never considered it as something that allowed me to take greater chances.

My last climb of the night Thursday was a route I have immense respect for and had very little business attempting with tired arms and legs.

A third of the way up, my body was telling me it might be time to tell Adam I was ready for him to let me down. I was tired, and the likelihood of making it to the top was wee.

I paused for a second, my hands wrapped around a grip and one foot supporting me.

I decided to trust the rope.

If I was coming down, it would be because I fell, not because I decided I couldn’t make it.

I pushed against a hold with my right arm and pulled myself up with my left as I’d seen Adam do on his ascent. At the same time, I brought my foot up to a toe hold at about thigh level. It was a move I’d seen Julie execute several times that night, but hadn’t considered before.

And I climbed the wall – all 60′.

I was exhausted. My forearms were numb, I was sweating, and I’d learned to trust the rope.

One thought on “Things I Know 304 of 365: It’s important to trust the rope

  1. Very interesting post, Zac, especially because we ALL went indoor climbing for the first time with Em's girl scout troop a few weeks ago. My approach is definitely the opposite of Julie's – slow, deliberate, trying NOT to have to use the rope. It's not that I don't trust the rope; several experiences climbing a 60 foot alpine tower cured me of any fear of falling. But I have wimpy arms and only 3 or 4 few GOOD climbs in me, so if I fall and have to start over, I'm not likely to do as well (in my definition of “doing well” which includes getting to the top!). Your post is making me want to go back and try again to conquer the last climb I made, but didn't finish: one with an 18 in overhang that then ran straight up to the top. I was the only adult to get OVER the overhang, but then I couldn't quite get the leverage to hoist myself upright enough to finish climbing the route. It was my last climb of the night and I was shaking so badly that I couldn't go anywhere, so I had my belayer lower me down. Now I kinda wish I would have jumped instead! (-:

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