I have always enjoyed indoor rock climbing because it feels empowering. Having your mind communicate with your body, watching your arms and legs crawl up the rock, and finally reaching the top is rewarding. It’s definitely not a motion that you do in everyday life. I had dreamed of taking that hobby outdoors, but never acted upon it until I saw a Groupon for Treks and Tracks and decided to take a climb. Yesterday was my big milestone day and I definitely didn’t regret it. The experience was awesome (I mean every sense of that word and am not just using that adjective because it sounds cool).
Daniel, the co-owner of Treks and Tracks, was our guide for the day, so he emailed the group a list of things to bring and a description of what to expect 2 days before the event. Knowing that we would be taking a moderate hike to the climbing spot, I got some new hiking shoes and brought the trekking poles that my boyfriend got me from REI. A normal person wouldn’t need the poles, but since I had weak knees and am still on a physical therapy plan, I reckoned I would be prepared.
We met up in the parking lot at Castle Rock State Park in Los Gatos at 9:30 am. Daniel gave us climbing shoes, a harness and a helmet, and had us sign a waiver. Lucky for us, since it was Labor Day weekend, 4 people had canceled and 2 people didn’t show up, so the ratio of guide-to-student was 1:5. For most of us, it was our first time climbing outdoors, so we were a little nervous and little excited.
We hiked downhill for a mile until we reached our spot. I took my time hiking down with my trekking poles and slid down squatting style in the very steep part at the end. It was definitely not the most stylish hike on my part, but I was proud of myself for making it there in one piece without hurting my knees. It looks like all the exercises my therapist gave me helped a lot and gave me the strength and confidence in pursuing this adventure.
We reached the climbing spot – a beautiful cliff of sandstone, with a nearby waterfall that we can hear, but not see. Here, Daniel took the time to explain the role and responsibility of the belayer, as well as how to safely attach yourself to the rope with the figure 8 knot. He mentioned how important the belayer was and how the belayer is often not pictured in the photographs in rock climbing. After experiencing it myself, I definitely realize that the climber and belayer work as a team and that the belayer plays a crucial role in the climber’s safety. It’s not an easy job. The belayer has to constantly work the ropes so that the climber doesn’t have a lot of “lag” and wouldn’t fall and s/he also has to catch the climber if they do slip. It looks like an easy motion to work the pulley system, but it’s really not. The rope has a lot of friction and moving your arms up and down constantly for the duration of a climb, is no easy task. As one of my classmates said, “it’s a workout.” My left shoulder and arm is completely sore today, and I believe half of that is due to belaying. If you do decide to rock climb with the belay system and are a fast climber, it’s wise to team up with a belayer that’s responsible, strong and has a long arm span (someone small like me, with a shorter arm span and lesser strength will require you to climb slower so we can go at the same safe pace).
Anyhow, you probably want me to get to the meat of the story, which is the climbing itself. One wise tip that Daniel gave was to “trust your shoes and to trust your feet.” The more nervous or afraid you are, the harder it will be. For the first climb, our route was along a crack (where 2 sides meet in the corner). By using the amazing rubber soles (which beautifully danced with the rock), and the faith in our feet, all of us were able to literally walk up the rock without too much difficulty. Higher up, we experienced some difficulty as there were less things to hold onto and we really had to trust our feet and work our way through. Being smaller than everyone else, I had to take 2 breaks along to the way to regain my breath and strength. There was one area where we were under a big boulder and Daniel had advised that we hold the bottom of the boulder like a couch and work our way around. It was really helpful as there was a good grip there and offered more stability. We all made it up there, so that was amazing. I was totally out of breath by then and ready to come down, but I made it!
The second path was more difficult. My classmates made it look easy, but I knew it would be more challenging for me, and it was. Being that it was my second climb, I was already slightly tired. This one didn’t have a crack to walk on so I really had to find the right places to put my feet and also use a lot of upper body strength to pull myself up. There was a part where I literally had to let go of the wall and trust the rope to swing me across to the other side. It was scary and I had to do it twice since the first time, I couldn’t get a good grip. Then there was the part where my shoe came loose and I was like “uh oh, let me down.” They didn’t let me down, but just told me to lean back so I had space to tie my shoe again. It was a difficult climb, there was one area where I just had no idea what to do and sat there for a while. Finally I found a hole that was hiding by my right foot. It took a while before I could gather the strength to push myself up. There was another part that had a nice cave and I seriously wanted to just stop there and say “I made it to the cave.” But they didn’t let me down, so I kept going. I’m sure it took a while and I really didn’t think I could have made it to the top, but I did. I lost my grip a couple of times and slipped and swung around for a bit. The important thing was, I made it and I didn’t quit. At the end, the view was amazing.
Just like in life, good things take work and it takes time, but if you keep going and don’t give up, no matter how slow you go, you’ll make it because you believe in yourself and in the people who support you. After climbing this cliff, you feel as if nothing is impossible.
Of course, since we hiked down there, we had to hike back up to the parking lot. That was a tiring hike just because I was already exhausted from everything else. By the time we got back, it was about 2 pm and I only drank a bottle of water. I was dehydrated and starving and craving some Jamba Juice. By the time I got home, I was so exhausted I just wanted to lounge around and do nothing for the rest of the day. Today (the day after), I’m sore from my shoulders to my fingertips, and my thighs hurt too. It takes effort to switch from sitting down to standing up and vice versa and I literally cannot do a single push up, but it’s worth it 🙂 I even got a few bruises on my legs as a souvenir.
Rock climbing is an extreme sport, similar to skydiving or bungee jumping, which requires a lot of courage and trust. It takes courage to go to great heights and come back down and also takes a lot of trust in the equipment and the people who will support you. In the end, they all help you build confidence. However, the one thing rock climbing gives you that the other 2 sports don’t is the ability to believe in your own strength and determination. To trust your own instincts every step of the way and knowing that when it gets rough and you want to give up, you shouldn’t, because with a little time, you can get back into the groove and reach the top. It’s a very empowering experience, and one that I would recommend for anyone who likes to climb.
I will definitely try more indoor rock climbing now that I know how to belay. I would also recommend that if you do, you should fork out the extra $3-$5 for shoe rental, as you can literally feel the difference as you climb. I may try outdoor rock climbing again at different locations too. If for some reason, this ends up as the only time I go outdoor rock climbing, I will remember this experience for the rest of my life. Climbing at Castle Rock – exhilarating, exhausting, empowering, exciting, ephemeral, but timeless.