Saturday, October 24, 2015

Climbing - Bucket List

I have always wanted to climb. When I got sick with cancer, I read a lot of books about climbing and survival (Into Thin Air, Touching the Void, and the like) and fell in love with it even more. Or, at least, the idea of it. Then I saw THIS PHOTO on National Geographic's Instagram feed and posted it up on Facebook, saying I didn't think it was nuts to want to try this.

What I didn't know was that my best friend from high school, E., would see it and suggest we do some top-roping. It seems he is a certified climbing instructor. We suggested meeting in nearby Columbia at Chickies Rock, Lancaster County, PA as it seemed to have some decent climbing and was somewhere relatively equidistant between the two of us.

Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to ride the bike down. Chickies Rock rises above the beautiful Susquehanna, and the fall colors were just begininng to make their appearance. While it was a little chilly, the sunshine warmed what could have been a tough day.

Absolutely gorgeous day....

The mighty Susquehanna, as it gently flows through south-central Pennsylvania...

To the left is York County home of the White Rose City, and America's first capital. This shot is taken from the Lancaster County side, home of the Red Rose City, Lancaster, PA.

We arrived at the top of Chickies Rock and E. took the first rappel down. It was good to know the route was safe and the knots secure. I actually enjoyed learning and practicing the various knots associated with climbing. After the adventure, E. gave me a section to continue my practice - cool.

E. brought his son, Li'l J, too. It was tough getting him started on the rappelling because he is so tiny the rope didn't want to flow through the "figure 8". It's the flow through this device that attaches the climber through the harness and guides the descent. However, once we got him over the edge, he was on his way. And then it was my turn...

Let's start by saying it was far from the graceful descent of my buddy, E. Or even the slow descent of his son. No, mine was a little...different. They will tell you the first step of the rock into thin air is the most difficult. They are correct. Standing at the top of a thirty foot drop and stepping off just doesn't make sense. I don't care who you are.

I imagine skydiving has the same mindset, the first time one tries it."The plane is working. We are airborne. I don't think jumping is in my best interests here..."

But, I did step out. And that's where it got...complicated. What E. didn't tell me is that my legs should have been pointed out in front of me and slightly downward. That downward is kind of key. For those of you who didn't pass physics class, or are a little hazy on the mechanics of what happens when the ballast of one's ass is no longer in a position to keep one upright, allow me to explain. The second step I took threw me into an inverted position (yes, that means upside down) and the rope was taut, trapping my left leg between it and the granite rock face. So, there I was, suspended 30 feet above the floor of the cliff, hanging upside down, with my left left pinned.

No. There are no pics. Don't even ask.

"Um...Hey! E! Any suggestions?" It seems the thing to do in my situation was to let myself down slightly, then walk my feet back under me, then rappel down with my feet pointed slightly downward. "Well, thankfully this can't get worse." Then, as I let myself, I heard the ripping sound. My pants had caught on the rock, and with each lowering movement, I could feel an influx of chilly air where I was certain there should be none.

And then I heard E. yelling, "I see lobsters! I see LOBSTERS!" Li'l J. joined in, adding, "Oh no - they're getting BIGGER!!!" I realized the tear was even bigger than I thought. They say the first casualty in war is innocence. Apparently, the first casualty in climbing is my pants.

We spent the rest of the day climbing, which I LOVED! Trying to figure out routes up the face was a great mind exercise. In some ways it was like fly fishing (though infinitely more strenuous), in that when you are doing it, it is impossible to think about anything else. It was this aspect that I enjoyed the most. Each of us took turns, including Li'l J. who was a climbing machine.

It was a fantastic day, and I cannot wait to try it again. A huge thanks to my friend E. for teaching me the ropes, so to speak. I'm really loooking forward to the next time out! But, for now, a moment to relax...

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