Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Return to Easy Overhang

August 2006. Decked out in shiny new rock climbing gear, I huffed and puffed my way up the talus slope toward a technical rock climb called Easy Overhang. If my daughter Karen, who followed behind, had doubts about this enterprise, she had good reason. I was about to try to lead her up a 200 foot vertical cliff in the Shawangunk mountains of New York. It had been 35 years since I had last done anything like this.

The roots of our adventure lay in a phone call Karen had made to me several months before. "Dad, guess what? I went to the rock climbing gym yesterday." I had heard that, in the years since I had stopped climbing, someone had invented the rock gym, but i had never actually seen one. Karen explained she had "Done a 5.7 and gotten half way up a 5.8!" She called me several more times to report further progress climbing what I learned were plastic holds bolted to a plywood wall. I had not led an active life for many years and had pretty much resigned myself to growing old and feeble. Nonetheless, I finally asked Karen if she would like to climb something outdoors with me some time. She answered "yes" with what sounded like genuine enthusiasm, so there we were, several weeks later, roping up at the bottom of Easy Overhang.

Easy O is a very easy, but steep and exposed climb. The kind of exciting, easy climb one finds almost nowhere but the "Gunks." I had done it many years before, but that was when I was a strong 20 year-old; and we pounded nice strong pitons into the rock for protection. Now, I am a fat old man and, in the interest of saving the rock from destruction, climbers use little things called chocks and complicated cams that are supposed to stick in the cracks by friction. It would be fair to say I was a tad nervous as I stepped onto the rock for my first lead in many years.

As I struggled to make the first move into an easy gully, I thought, "I don't remember this being quite so hard." I made it, though, and worked my way up the gully. Finding two nice, solid bolts into which to tie at the first belay ledge was a great relief. Karen followed without difficulty and seemed quite comfortable on a ledge 100 feet off the ground.

The second pitch is steeper and much more exposed than the first, but I found myself less sketched (a climber's term for scared). I put several of the new "protection" devices in, wondered if they would hold a fly, wished for some of my old chromolly pitons, and soon found myself making the last moves to the top! I belayed Karen up and realized,

"OH MY GOD! I HAD ACTUALLY DONE IT!"


I had led a real rock climb again. I could still do it. And I had shared it with my daughter. Doing that easy climb with Karen was one of the most rewarding, thrilling, empowering experiences of my life. It gave me a whole new way to relate to my daughter: not as a child of whom I took care, but as a climbing partner whom I trusted with my life and who trusted me with hers. I have looked at myself differently every day since: I am someone who, within limits, is still physically capable. Beyond that, I have gained a wonderful sense that my life is expanding, new possibilities are opening for me.

And, yes, I have kept climbing and worked my way up to doing somewhat more serious routes. But none will ever mean as much to me as that August day on Easy O in my beloved Gunks.

Here is a picture of Karen following Richard Goldstone up a more difficult climb in the Gunks called Limelight. Richard not only led, but also rappelled part way back down to take the picture.

1 comment:

Karen said...

60 is the new 30!