The transition from gym to outdoor climbing can be a difficult and an unfortunately seldom one for new climbers first introduced to gym culture. I admit, I started out as a gym rat, dragging myself up indoor V0s after joining the University of New Hampshire climbing team on a whim. I wasn’t fast enough to run Division 1 cross country, and I have less than zero coordination abilities for team sports, so trying to climb up textured holds screwed into a wall seemed like a good option. I loved scaling the slimy plastic of the local gym, not knowing that there was anything better. I’d hiked Rattlesnake Mountain the summer before, but I had no idea what the cliffs of Rumney below me had to offer—or that they exited at all.
My first experience outdoors was a rough one. I had the flu, but I didn’t want to back out on my first outdoor trip with the UNH climbing team. Not yet having my own shoes, I rented a worn, unaggressive pair of Mad Rocks from the UNH gym and boarded the bus for Pawtuckaway State Park.
Thirty minutes and a nearly mile-long walk down a dirt path later, I found myself by the boulders of “Round Pond,” where I was supposed to warm up. Unfortunately for me, the “warm-up” route, a classic V0, fittingly named Classic, was the hardest climb I’d attempted to date. Where were the feet? (Something I still ask myself every time I climb at Pawtuckaway). V0s inside consisted of gigantic jugs that I could wrap my whole hand around and then use like ladder rungs to step on with my feet. Not outside. There was one jug high up that I had to “paste” one foot on the face of the rock to reach. I tried it. I fell. I tried it again. I wimped out. I watched other people attempt it and became jealous when they sent. I tried several more times and finally topped out. We moved on to other areas where I attempted a few more routes before succumbing to flu-induced exhaustion and the pull of lying on mats instead of falling onto them. I enjoyed the nature-filled afternoon, but I didn’t understand why others would get excited to subject themselves to the experience each week.
I bouldered outside one other day that fall, but I was unprepared for the cold weather and spent most of the day jogging around to stay warm and lying on sun-warmed mats. I still didn’t understand why everyone liked grabbing onto cold rocks so much; all that happened for me was a slow numbing of my hands that prevented me from feeling any hold by the time I was attempting to top out, thus usually resulting in down climbing.
Luckily for me, many of my friends loved climbing outside always, even when Pawtuckaway was under three feet of snow. When there was too much fresh powder to climb, they took me on hikes to look for boulders, and, when the first few boulders became climbable again, we donned snow boots, winter jackets, and crash pads to freeze our fingers off on V0s. The snow banked up against the rocks forming a perfect crash pad slide when we fell, creating the only setting where I could successfully take out my large guy friends by knocking their feet out from under them when I fell. I alternated taking warm-up runs and doing core obsessively to retain feeling in my hands and feet between climbs. I was slowly gaining an appreciation for climbing, though I can’t say I enjoyed the feeling of my hands freezing to the rock, even if it provided excellent grip.
I liked climbing enough to spent spring break of 2014 in Alabama scaling the rocks at Horse Pens 40 and returned to Durham, New Hampshire, wondering why it was so cold and why I couldn’t walk 10 feet from my tent to play on the most condensed rock jungle gym I’d laid eyes on. I was officially hooked. Outdoors was better. Plastic was fake and only to be used for strength training during torrential downpours and blizzards.
Since then, I’ve spent as much time and money as possible on climbing. I boulder, sport climb, follow on multi-pitch trad, attempt to plug gear on 5.6s, toprope through the draws on my seasoned climbing friend’s projects, and think all sunny days are for climbing and rainy days are for overhanging routes.
I aim for this blog to be a collection of adventures, lessons I’ve learned, funny things I’ve experienced, contemplations on random things climbing, and whatever else I happen to type up. I’m still a baby climber; so don’t expect heaps of seasoned climber wisdom. This is not an instruction manual, just a collection of words about climbing, but I hope you’ll enjoy at least some of them between days at the crag.
Originally published September 12, 2014, on coffeetapeibuprofenclimb.blogspot.com.