Posted by: Andrea | June 10, 2008

The view from the top

So this is what I was doing this weekend, how about you?







 Though to be fair, this isn’t actually me, unfortunately.  I wish it was, but I didn’t bring along a photographer with me this time.  However, this IS the route we did this weekend so we can all pretend it’s me because honestly, how cool does that look?!








This past weekend was amazing and we had glorious sunny weather and NO RAIN so all of you with your happy thoughts, very well done!  My first foray into outdoor rock climbing was a resounding success and I had so much fun.  I did a few climbs that I never ever in a million years thought I’d be able to do, so that feeling of success has still been glowing within me for the past few days.  It was exhausting, my arms and legs are still sore and totally covered in bruises and scrapes.  But it was far and away the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done in my lifetime.

I thought we’d start out small, with shorter single-pitch walls, to ease me into the whole ‘climbing outdoors’ thing.  Except the beautiful sunny weather had a downside.  There was no wind, so there was nothing to blow the midges away.  Midges are these horrible biting gnats that fly around in huge swarms and basically attack you as soon as you stop moving.  It’s been three days and I’m still nursing midge bites.  We turned up to the lovely, short, EASY wall and the midges basically engulfed us all.  I had them in my ears, in my eyes, if I tried to breathe I was inhaling them.  It was the awful and the only way to get away from them was to keep moving.  Except that when you’re belaying, you’re sort of forced to stand in one place at the bottom of the crag, attached to a rope with your climbing partner at the other end.  You can’t move at all because the only thing keeping your partner from falling is you, keeping the rope tight.  But with the little blood-sucking fiends, we all made an executive decision to move elsewhere.  Of course, elsewhere meant out of the valley and up into the mountains.  To where the big, scary NOT EASY walls live.

It took us an hour and a half to hike in and once we got there, we headed to the bottom of the Weeping Wall.  The climbing was great and not too difficult for a total outdoor newbie like me.  Unfortunately, when we got to the top of this wall, The Fear got me.

Every rock climber is familiar with The Fear.  It’s something that every person I know has had to get past when they first start to climb.  Fear of heights (or more accurately, fear of falling) is one fear that is almost universal.  Almost everyone has it to some extent or another.  It takes time for climbers to learn to trust the equipment and to climb without being afraid of falling.  Yes, you might fall.  Everyone does at some point or another.  But you can get over the fear of falling if you trust your equipment and believe that even if you DO fall, you’re not going to be hurt.  I have absolutely no problem with The Fear in the indoor climbing wall, I trust my equipment and my climbing partners completely.  Outside though?  Well, 60 metres up is a LOT higher than I’d ever been before.  Not to mention, when we reached the top, we were standing on a ledge about eight inches wide, hanging off a sling wrapped around a big rock.  Our belay stance wasn’t even wide enough to stand on.  So there I was, hanging off the wall 60 metres up and all I could think was, ok, I’m ready to go DOWN.  NOW.

I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to get past this.  I was dreading the following day, especially when our instructor told us we’d be going up to Buachaille Etive Mor.  This is a huge-ass mountain, the top of which is a Munro (hills over 3,000 feet).  It would take a pretty significant hike/scramble just to get up to the bottom of the wall, much less before we even started to climb.  Of course there was no way in hell I was going to say I was scared!

The next day, after a VERY hot climb up, we made it to the bottom of Rannoch Wall, where our climb, January Jigsaw, was awaiting us.  This one was even taller than the last.  I knew I’d be able to make it up part way, but this climb was three pitches long and the last one was 30 metres with some serious climbing.  It’s very exposed and very VERY high.  I made it up to the second belay stance, a larger ledge where I could sit and regroup.  I didn’t feel comfortable climbing first – I would have had to put the protection in, which would have meant climbing for long sections between clips.  If I’d fallen, there would have been a long fall before the ropes caught me, probably anywhere between 10-15 feet.  I was already too nervous, so the Boyfriend went up first with the instructor.  I sat there by myself, belaying out more and more rope and he got higher and higher and I started to get very nervous.  Finally the rope stopped and he called down that he was safe.  It was my turn to climb.  Still terrified, but I was determined not to let it get the best of me.  So I climbed.

The interesting thing was, that last 30 meter pitch was the most fun I had all weekend.  Once I started climbing, all the fear melted away.  THIS I knew how to do.  I was all alone on the rock, just me and the skills I’d been learning for the past year and a half.  I didn’t even notice the height or the exposure, or anything else except each move I had to make to get to the top.  There are a lot of things I can’t do –  dribble a basketball, throw a baseball, throw or catch ANYTHING really – but the one thing I can do is climb.  And it was the most amazing, thrilling, wonderful experience I’ve ever had, being able to do that on real rock, up a real mountain.  

This is Rannoch Wall, but unfortunately it’s a bit hard to see where we actually climbed.  This is January Jigsaw and we also did the first two pitches of Agag’s Groove.  Absolutely Awesome day.  I can’t recommend it enough.  If anyone has ever thought about rock climbing before, DO IT.  It’s a high I can’t even explain.  

Just a few more gratuitous shots of Glencoe because it’s just that beautiful.  And do you see that blue sky down there?!  That never happens here!

























  1. Yeah. Wet myself. That’s what I’d do. I’m a big enough man to admit it. I am very VERY impressed.

  2. Way to go, Lady!!! I’ve said it before, but I could NEVER do that! I’m so impressed by you!

    WHEN you move back to Seattle (notice I said WHEN, not if), you can teach me to climb! 🙂

  3. Wow…I think that’s a long ways off for me.

    I’m gonna stick to bouldering on my little 20 foot indoor walls for now. Getting back to top-roping and lead-climbing indoors would be a nice step…I’m falling too much in love with the safe, independent aspect of bouldering. Just me and a nice, padded route. No belayer/belaying involved.

    God…just reading this post makes my hands sweat a bit. With that said, the pictures, and the thought of scaling and overcoming those huge intimidating mountains, seem amazingly exhilarating at the same time as well. I’ll be out there someday.

    I’m sorry about the more recent posts that may cast a bit of a shadow on this. You seem to be working your way through it well enough and I’m entirely sure you’re coming out of it, changed for the better, even as I type this.

    I see you’re blog buddies with essaytch and kristiane…I feel a little guilty because all I do is stand around in my little corner of a blog and just by association with them, I come to interact with some of the cool people/bloggers that they know.

    A Scomerican! (I have been really, REALLY wanting to go study in Scotland for a semester or two for some time now. I’m determined to do it sooner or later.)

  4. I hear you on the independent aspect of bouldering. I’m probably the most obsessed in our group of rock climbers and it drives me crazy that I have to rely on everybody else in order to go climbing. But bouldering also kind of scares me because I like the safety of the rope holding me up! I have no problem at all with falling off a route on a top roped wall, but lead climbing still gives me a bit of the nerves. Not to mention outside, where there are sometimes 10 feet between clips. That means a fall of 20 feet. Plus rope stretch. That’ll definitely make your hands sweat! Mine sure did, so I’m working on getting over that fear so that I can climb more regularly outside. But I’m just so glad you’re into climbing! I’m the crazy one who drags all her friends into a rock gym as soon as the opportunity arises. You’re my friend, you will love rock climbing! 🙂

    It’s funny because I’ve known Essaytch since middle school and she was the one who convinced me to start a blog. I feel the exact same way as you do, I just sort of hang around in my little corner with my blog and I meet fantastic people through everybody else. Kristiane I’m just lucky to know by association!

    Oh, and you should definitely come study in Scotland! That’s how I discovered the place and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Edinburgh is amazing and they have good exchange programs. Definitely check it out!

  5. […] basis while climbing, something that often isn’t discussed much.  As one who has experienced The Fear myself while rock climbing, it was refreshing to hear that I wasn’t so much different from […]

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