Learning to Fall (and Other Cliched Crap)

The sunlight dappled through the beech trees as I twisted my foot back and forth on the rock ledge, inching my toes slowly to the right, closer to the chained anchors at the top of the climb. The humidity of June was heavy that day at Rumney Rocks, and my already sweaty hands struggled to maintain a grip on the damp yet sharp granite. The last anchor point was about ten feet below me and five feet to the right of where I was facing. If I fell, I’d fall far and take a hard swing to the right. The anchors were just beyond the reach of my arm, and as I reached out with the rope, my left hand gripping the rock hard, my right foot suddenly slipped, and I thought, “I must be falling.”

By some miracle, or just the sheer, adrenaline based strength that entered my muscles at that moment, I did not fall, and the next moment I had the rope through the anchors, and was being lowered back towards the rocky ground thirty meters below. I didn’t take a fall then.

My first fall was a little one in Bear Canyon outside Bozeman, MT, when I reached the top of a climb but had no luck finding a good hold so that I could place the rope through the bolted anchors at the top. My sister was belaying me then, and even though it was a peaceful, popular day in the canyon, I let out a scream that could wake the dead as a felt my hands and feet slip from the wall. Claire caught me, of course, and I was perfectly okay, but tears still gushed down my face as I held my feet flat against the rock, trying to regain my composure. I’m not proud of that fall.

Every other fall I’ve ever had was a purposeful fall in a climbing gym in order to get my lead climbing certification. For months now, I’ve been avoiding falling, never leading climbs that I thought would be too difficult for me. I was too scared, and frankly I had no interest in pushing myself that direction. I guess I was waiting for inspiration.

Inspiration came by this week, as I was feeling tired and put out at the gym. I’ve been climbing harder than ever in the gym this winter and feeling good about my progress, but I have not yet been willing to really give it a go with the things that scare me. Suddenly on Monday as I was climbing with my friend Peter, I figured, what the hell. Let’s do this.

I started climbing an incredibly steep 10+ at the gym that had big, daring moves, and difficult foot placements, but overall secure holds. Peter had to hold on to me at the second draw (only about 20 feet into the climb) because I got kind of freaked out.  Then I just started kicking butt up the roof. I was about to crest the last lip of the roof when I had to make another big move to a left hand hold. Feet were not placed well, hand was not secure. I grabbed the rope and made to clip it into the draw when I suddenly knew it was not going to happen.

“Fuck fuck FUCK FUCK,” was my eloquent response. Then, “FALLING.”

And I fell. I fell far. And Peter caught me. And I was okay. And then I finished the climb.

Falling is kind of an inevitable part of climbing, if you’re looking to push yourself. I’m proud of the fall that I took on Monday, I hope that it opens a next chapter in my personal climbing career, and while I’m glad to be here, I’m also glad that I listened to myself and didn’t push until the inspiration hit me.

Good luck with the many brave falls, literal or metaphorical you may be taking.



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