Live Free or Die

(Or how I learned to empower myself at Rumney.)

This weekend, the original plan was to head up to Rumney with a couple of friends. A few days of camping and cragging sounded perfect, until those friends had to cancel. Luckily, another friend was still up for a day trip. The only problem was that neither she nor I felt confident going on our own.

Though we’d both been outside sport climbing several times before, we’d always gone with more experienced friends. She had a rope, but I don’t even have gear, beyond my helmet, harness, and shoes. We attempted to recruit someone to join us and be our leader, but one friend was out of town and another was already planning to climb some projects with a different partner.

But when I realized I could borrow draws, we decided to head up anyway.

Though we did end up running into our more experienced friends as we got started in the morning, we basically spent the day climbing on our own. And it was exactly what I needed.

We didn’t get on the hardest physical climbs I’ve ever done, but the mental challenges definitely pushed my limits.

I took my first lead fall outside – it wasn’t the biggest whip in the world (in fact, it was fairly small), but it was an actual fall from above my bolt, and that was a new sensation for me.

It felt good. It felt like suddenly I could try hard stuff, and I would be okay.

I was scared to both belay and climb a route that was at the edge of a cliff. Well, not so much a cliff, but as Mountain Project described it “a slip from here could land you 35 feet down Below the New Wall.” Still, my partner wanted to try it. She could see that I was uneasy, and she gave me the option to bail, but I didn’t want my irrational fear to hold me back, so I secured myself to the belay bolt, and soon felt comfortable.

That is, until I realized as she was half way up that if I didn’t want to climb the route myself, I should have told her so she would clean the gear on her way down. Apparently, I had made the decision to try it. And I did. And I made it to the top, with a minimum of Elvis leg.

That was where I discovered there were no quick clips or pigtails for lowering (which many climbs at Rumney have), and I hadn’t brought up any gear to clean the anchor, mainly because I had never practiced that and didn’t know if I totally knew how.

Since I had already pushed through a lot of fear just to make it up to clip the chains, I decided to lower off, leaving my friend’s borrowed quickdraws at the top. I will replace them, and consider the cost a lesson learned to always bring up the gear you might need if you don’t know what’s at the top of a climb – and also the motivation to learn how to clean anchors, ASAP.

Finally, on the last route of our day, I had to push myself physically. Because unlike when I have gone out in the past, there was no significantly better climber to finish the route if I couldn’t do it. So I did.

I know a lot of amazing, strong women who get out and climb, confident in their skills. But I have always deferred to other people to show me the way. This is a good thing when you’re a beginner – you need mentors to learn the systems and how to be safe.

But at a certain point, you also need to believe in your own ability to climb, crush, and come home safe. And on a beautiful fall day, I went out with a fellow female climber and learned that we are capable of doing this on our own.

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