Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rock climbing

It has been a while since I updated, but I have a very good excuse. I have been completely unable to move my arms.

No, I haven’t been attacked by Argentinian water rodents again (that’s a great story, for those who don’t already know it). Rather, I went rock climbing.

We had been invited a couple of weeks ago by Audrey and her boyfriend Greg. Both have been doing it for quite some time – over a decade each. I had idly been asking Greg about it over the aperitifs and he said “You seem really interested. You should come out with us!”

Now, there were two kinds of miscommunication going on here. I was doing what we in the English speaking world call “making conversation.” That’s clearly different from expressing interest.

However, either because Greg misinterpreted my questions or because he is insane (events bear out the latter hypothesis) he told us to come out with him and his rock climbing buddies.

He then pulled out a black and white photo of the cliff to which he wanted to take us. As he handed it over, he assured me that this rock face had all sorts of easy “lines” on it, suitable for a beginner.

“Besides” he said “I’m a fully certified instructor.”

The photo looked innocuous enough – a long line, several different routes, some of which looked like steep hills. How hard could it be? It’s been a while since I did anything manly like this so I said, sure! Let’s do it!
Greg in action

Now, half of me fully expected that nothing would come of this – why would these guys want to go out of their way to drag a couple of newbies up the bunny slopes when they could be doing their Spiderman routines on a hard wall? On the other hand, I started to get kind of excited: it was something new, we’d get out into the country and get some exercise.

Well, two weeks after that dinner (the wine fondue, for those who are interested) the invitation came through. Saturday morning we were to put on those clothes to which we were least emotionally attached and meet a man described to Amynah as “a tall guy with a green Opel” in the Auchon parking lot (Auchon being a steroid-taking result of a WalMart breeding with a Superstore. It’s big, is what I’m trying to say).

So warned, I dragged my camping pants from the bottom of clothes where they’d been hibernating, Amynah put on some crappy capris she hadn’t worn in a year and we were off.

We managed to find the large man and his small car with no problem, oddly enough. WE piled in and introduced ourselves. Phillipe, it turns out, had been doing this rock-climbing (escalade, en Francais) thing for five years. His friend Karim had been at it for six months, and this was to be his first outdoor climb. Niether spoke a word of English.

As we set off, Phillippe turned around and looked at our clothes, ratty and wrinkled as they were.

“Do you have something to change into? Because those will get ruined,” he said.

Otherwise, the drive to Ottrott, where we were to meet Audrey and Greg, was pretty quiet. During the half hour I had time to contemplate things, like, if Karim has been climbing for six months, and this is the first time he’s done so outdoors, is it really a good idea to do this? Also, both Karim and Philippe looked to be in pretty good shape. I type for a living. Am I really ready for this?

Actually, that’s a lie. I didn’t think any of that until we arrived at the quarry. The cliff was a huge drooling beast, way bigger than the picture, in which it was a mere two inches. In reality it was thirty metres, straight up. Thirty metres, for anyone who is counting, is precisely thirty metres more cliff than I’d ever climbed in my life.

We all got harnessed up and Greg found an “easy” run to set the ropes up on. Now, Greg is an ordinary human being, to a casual observer. Get him on the bottom of a cliff, however, and you will very soon have him on the top of the cliff. That’s it. He climbs like Gretzky scores points, like the Habs miss playoffs, like Newfoundlanders club seals – like he was born doing it.

So, after seeing Greg scoot up a vertical face like he was fetching the mail, Audrey turned to me.

“Ok – it’s your turn!”

What? No lesson? Nope. Greg threw down a rope, they attached me to it and told me to climb a wall. So I stepped up to the cliff. I look up – no handhold there. I look down. No foothold there. I look to the side. No elevator button there.

“Now what?”

Well, I managed to get up about three metres on my own. On the first “line” I got up about four metres before Phillippe had to climb up and bodily haul me over a rock face. It got easier after that – if by easier you can ignore the banged knees, abraded arms, strained muscles, bruised abdomen and lumpy head.
Me - I'm the little speck in blue pants. Phillippe's in red. Greg is in white, way up there.

Once I got to the top I was rewarded with a view of the Ottrott castle on the hill facing us. Pretty cool. However, I barely had time to catch my breath before Greg turned to me and said “Now for the fun part. You get to rappel down.”

Everyone has seen rappelling in the movies, and it does look fun – SWAT team members aand rescue personall bounding down walls and sliding down ropes. Like at an amusement park ride. Except you forget something – it involves the biggest “D’ya trust me? of all – you have to deliberately fall backwards off a rock hard cliff into a nothingness that only ends 100 feet below with the stone hard ground. You have a rope, of course, but who the heck believes in ropes?

Nonetheless, I did it. After I finished, I was told that in fact, they had put the never-been-in-a-harness-before beginners on a run that was classified as intermediate. Thanks!
Amynah's turn. I won't describe how she did, because it's my blog, and I am determined to rescue a semblance of male pride here

We all did a few lines and over the course of the day, I noticed that everyone had their own swearing style. I tend to mention Jesus a lot. Karim, meanwhile tended to yell about “professional ladies.” Greg, being trilingual, would – on the rare occasions when he had difficulty – unleash a stream of syllables that must be fairly commonly heard in EU meetings when they’re not going well.

His multilingualism wasn’t a help with his instructions however, most of which boiled down to “C’est facile! Just do it!” I was understanding the French well enough to get instructions: “Votre main gauche en haute… NON! L’autre gauche!” However, asking for directions was a little harder, since my brain absolutely refuses to think in French when it’s a life or death situation (“Now, is ‘I can’t see what to do next’ present tense, future or conditional? And how does one conjugate ‘get me down, now!’?”)

On my second run, which I did without Phillipe’s aid, I made an interesting discovery. I was on a section of cliff, my left leg extended ninety degrees to my body, the sole of my shoe barely making contact with a half-centimetre ridge, my right foot wedged in a crevasse and both hands gripping with all my might to a dead tree stump when I had an epiphany: I’m not having very much fun.

Phillippe yelled at me to move my right foot to another crevasse and then I had a second epiphany: I might be not entirely comfortable with heights. I realized this because although my brain was entirely calm, because I knew I was attached to a rope, my right foot was not moving. It was perfectly comfortable where it was and it was going to stay there – along with the rest of my body, clinging to the rock like lichen – until the fire department arrived to peel me off.

At this point, Audrey helped matters immeasurably by whipping out her cellphone/MP3 player and putting on “I will survive.” I think it was supposed to be encouraging, but off course the first lines hit a little too close to home: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified…”

That helped. I managed to loosen my grip just enough to give her the finger.


Anonymous said...

I'm impressed...
Travis and I always did our climbing inside a nice, climate controlled, lichen-free, cushy-floored building. Outside is a whole's different.

...Just enough to give her the finger...I hope that part is true.


Maeve said...

...and I guess you survived and kept all fingers, or you wouldn't have typed this. I'm also impressed!

Natalie Joan said...

I had a lot of fun imagining the scene. I can just see the wry smile on your face as you gave her the finger.


Tasha said...

That looks like so much fun! Take us when we come.