Author's Note: I was inspired to write this after watching Nina Williams climb Too Big to Flail at the Banff Film Festival. Hers was a free solo, but the climber in my story is roped. I don't have any experience free soloing! :)
I use a lot of rock climbing terms in this story. Sorry! I thought about doing without them, but it doesn't feel right without. I tried to give context when using the terms to help readers understand what I'm saying. I'm also providing this link for those who are less familiar with the terminology. If the story is unreadable due to jargon, then I'm so sorry... but I felt I had to write it this way.
Also, 10b is short for 5.10b ... which is about the limit of what I can lead on a sport climb.
I stared up at the flat face of the massive boulder, sliced in half as if by a giant's clean blow with hammer and chisel.
I let out a puff of frosty breath, looked at my climbing partner, and smiled. I dropped my pack to the ground and began to collect a bit of beta with my eyes. I was determined to properly on-sight this 10b. No practice, no guidebook beyond location, and no falls.
My partner uncoiled the rope and put on her harness as I took time to visualize the moves up the wall. I realized that I probably looked like I was doing some strange sort of tai chi as I mimicked the movements I knew I would need as my eyes scoured the wall for the best holds.
When I had finished the climb twice in my mind, I put on my shoes and harness. I counted the bolts twice and clipped that many (plus two) quickdraws to my harness. I picked up the new rope, the texture of its smooth, serpentine skin through my fingers sent a burst of excitement through me, Pavlovian instinct preparing me for the vertical pleasure to come.
I tied in, twisting the rope in the first figure eight before snaking it through both points of the harness then reweaving my knot. I tied off the slack.
I glanced at my partner as she popped a bight of rope into her ATC, the color worn off through countless uses. She threaded her biner through the loop in the rope, then spun closed the lock. She checked my harness and knot. She nodded and walked back to lean against a tree. She was ready. She nodded and informed me that my belay was on.
I walked up to the rock and ran my fingers along its surface. It was smooth and cold with morning chill. I did a dozen jump squats to get the blood flowing to my fingertips. I blew into my hands, then reached around to dip them into my chalk bag behind me.
The start of a climb was a crack, so I lay back, pulling against it from the side and setting my feet. A brief surge of peace began to flow through me as my feet left the ground, the kind that only comes when turning the world ninety degrees.
I moved up the crack, hand over hand until I came to the first bolt. My belayer played out some slack in the rope as I reached for my first quickdraw. I popped the biner into the bolt then reached down for the rope. I pulled it through the second biner's gate, then moved my hand back to the crack.
I finished off the crack, then moved out to the face, flagging my leg to reach up and over with the opposite arm, barn-dooring ever so slightly until my foot pressed against the holdless section of wall to balance me.
I crimped, thumb wrapping over fingers, and pulled down, holding just enough to set my feet in the holds off the crack. I looked up the face and moved upwards, feeling the freedom of the open wall. I clipped into the second bolt, all nervousness fading. After a second point of protection, there were no worries about falling.
Now free from all earthly concerns, I focused on climbing, on the pure pleasure of ascent. I entered a trance, feeling my body meld with wall. Shift hips, move foot, move hand. Shift weight, flag, move hand, move foot. This was now just a vertical dance with a destination. As the climb went on, I felt the burn of my forearms, a pleasant fire.
As my feet reached a bomber jug, I stopped for a moment to rest and shake out arms. I looked down to my belayer and smiled. She smiled back, feeling my joy from the ground.
My eyes worked their way up. It was not far, now, to the top.
As the burning of forearms faded and fingers warmed up, I found my next crimp and latched on. Foot, hand, other foot, shift, hips into the wall, next hand...
I reached the top bolt and clipped two quickdraws from harness to bolt, gates opposing. I pulled up the slack in the rope, pulling it through both draws. That done, I gave a yelp of excitment. I had on-sighted the route! A first for myself on a 10b! My heart soared with elation, as I I unclipped my harness from the draws and sat into my harness. I pulled down on the rope with three hard tugs, and my partner began to lower me.
I walked down the wall until my feet touched down. I stood and untied, then received the hug from my partner as she released the belay.
Warm satisfaction buzzed through me as I took the ATC and readied myself for her climb.