“Don’t — even — touch me,” I said to my friend. I was standing on a marble ledge in one of the alcoves a few flights down from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I felt like the famous tower was trying to tilt my way on purpose and that my feet were going to slip on the slick stone at any moment. I could hardly look at the view. This was years ago.
You might say I had a slight fear of heights back then. It was never enough to stop me from going to the top of a tower, or climb a tree, or go — very carefully — to the edge of a lookout point, but it did seem to be a little stronger than what my friends had. Where they might be standing at ease, I was sometimes sitting. Where they might bound from one rock to another, I might be found crawling along or going around another way.
Even then, I loved the outdoors and seeing things from up high.
In college I discovered there was a free beginning rockclimbing class that was held at a local rock formation. I had often seen it from a distance and wondered what it would be like to see the view from its top. I had to find out so I signed up.
During the class we didn’t do anything too tall, it was a beginning class after all. I did meet one person who seemed even more afraid of heights than I was. One of the things we did was to chimney climb up a cracked boulder. You had to top off on one side of the boulder and then, while still on belay, step over the crack to get to the other side and the walk off. He took a long time to make that step. I was worried it might take me even longer.
When my turn came I got up the climb easily enough, in fact I enjoyed how solid I felt doing the classic chimney technique. When I got on top, I looked over to the other side, and the outstretched arms of the instructor and realized that the gap was much narrower than it looked from the ground. Classmates were saying encouraging things. I stepped over easily and crossed into a new world.
I think that outing exemplified some of the reasons I climb. When folks have asked me why I started climbing I sometimes said it was to get over a slight fear of heights. I might also add that I love exploring new places in the outdoors and meeting new people. What I usually didn’t say was that I found the people I met while climbing to be generally supportive and that each climb was more about challenging myself than my fear. Fear is set aside in the focus of figuring out a climb, in fact much is set aside when climbing, leaving you with your mind, your body and the rock.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that first class. It led to another and then a group weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park, where I was well and truly hooked. Years have passed since then and I’ve climbed some very tall rocks and even ended up doing trad leads (something I thought I would not do). So why do I climb now? I still climb because of a love of the outdoors and exploration, but the fitness benefit is of greater importance now. I have something I love to do that motivates me to stay in shape and helps me get in shape while doing it. I still love meeting new climbers and have found more ways to meet them, including online. I’ve also discovered that there are special friendships to be found with long term climbing partners.
And what about a fear of heights? Sometimes after looking at my latest climbing trip pictures, friends ask me if I still have it. I just smile and say, “I have a healthy respect for them”.
If you’d like to read more about my past and present adventures please visit my website, Rockgrrl.com , it originally started in 2002 as a women centric (but not exclusive) community site then became more of an open blog, discussion and photography website. I’m also on Twitter as @rockgrrl
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