Making Time to Play on Rocks

Sometimes grocery shopping can wait.

I didn’t have time to climb. I needed to run to Walmart, CVS, and buy bulk pasta from BJ’s before picking up my sister from school. I needed to start packing to move back to UNH for my summer research internship that would start in a few days. I didn’t have time to drive an hour to Rumney, get on two routes and then drive an hour back. And it was forecast to rain.

“Shoot, I don’t think I can make it. Are you free tomorrow?” I texted Jared.

“No, tomorrow I have to be an adult and go to work,” he replied.

I told him I couldn’t go, and started to grab my wallet to run errands, immediately became anxious that I wouldn’t get to climb enough before starting my 40-hour-a-week internship, and texted Jared back: “I have three hours. Do you still want to climb?”

Jared, being ever-psyched, did.

An hour later I was in the small Rumney parking lot. It was misting when Jared arrived seven minutes later.

“Got your rope?” he asked. “I don’t feel like carrying mine.”

“It’s already packed,” I answered, swinging my backpack onto my shoulders and setting off up the trail to Main Cliff.

Jared sent me up a weird 5.8 that I accidentally linked up to a 5.10d at the top to warm up and then hung the draws on 5.10a classic Underdog for me in his approach shoes. He’d forgotten his climbing shoes in his car.

The rain picked up, as did the wind, covering the normally dry-in-the-rain cliff with a fine layer of mist as I belayed Jared up another climb.

“You leading this?” Jared asked, untying after sending easily.

“Sure,” I answered, unfamiliar with the climb but trusting that Jared wouldn’t put me on anything too difficult. I’d been sport climbing a few times before and knew there were a few 5.10s on Main Cliff, so I just assumed I was being sent up one of those.

A third of the way up, and just as Jared’s friend Mike walked up, I began flailing. My feet kept sliding off the wet face I was half-smearing on. After several falls I called down to the guys for desperation beta.

“Just use the good foot,” Jared said.

“What foot? I’d love to use that big thing way at the bottom, but it looks pretty slopy,” I answered, pointing to the slanting rail.

“That’s the one,” said Jared. “You just have to trust it.”

Magically, my rubber stuck to the slimy rock, and I pulled myself onto the ledge above. A few falls and shouts from Jared later, I clipped the chains.

Back on the ground, I met Mike, a bit embarrassed to have him see me butcher a 5.10 so badly, even in the rain.

“What was the name of that route?” I asked Jared.

Know Ethics. It’s a 5.11a,” he replied. I immediately felt a little better. I’d never tried an 11 before, though I’d watched my friends project 5.12s. “I didn’t tell you the grade because I wanted you to lead it,” Jared explained. I just smiled back. He was probably right.

Like me, Mike hadn’t planned on climbing that day either, but, after hearing Jared was going out, he decided to stop by. He ran up one route quickly before we all packed up to leave.

On our way out, Mike asked when I was thinking of climbing next. I told him I’d hoped to get out the next day, though I didn’t have plans with anyone yet.

“Want to try some multi-pitch?” he asked. “I have the day off.”

“Yes,” I said before thinking. I’d never climbed on gear, having mostly bouldered in the nine months I’d been climbing thus far. I’d never even seen someone place a piece before. I planned to meet Mike in Lincoln the next day.

* * *

Less than 24 hours later, I started up Cannon, following Mike on Lakeview, a slabby 5.6 classic. I knew nothing. I didn’t bring a helmet; since: 1) I didn’t own one, and 2) I didn’t know I should be protecting my head from potential rock fall. I left a few nuts, unable to free them without the nut tool Mike had forgotten at home, but, all in all, everything went smoothly. It was sunny with a light breeze, the climbing was mostly easy slab with one big, vertical move on the last pitch, and the traverse was less spicy than Mike had predicted.

It wasn’t until I was speeding home to, again, pick my sister up from school that I realized how ridiculous the situation had been. I’d trusted my life in the hands and gear of someone who I’d known for less than an hour and a half. Even more ridiculous was the fact that Mike was nice enough to take me up Cannon, knowing I had no trad experience and having only seen me flail my way up part of one 5.11a the day before. Somehow my “seeming to have a cool head”—and perhaps needing a partner—was enough for Mike.

* * *

I’ve been lucky to have friends and friends of friends who have been willing to take me climbing despite my inexperience. They have taught me to keep my foot out from behind the rope, to avoid back-clipping, and which direction I should hang draws when traversing. I’ve also learned that no matter how tired I am, what errands I have to run, or whatever else I originally planned to do for the day, if I have the chance to climb and I can somehow work everything else I have to do around it, I will drop whatever I’m doing to play on some rocks.

Originally published May 18, 2015, on 

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