Looking up at the ground


AJ, Emily, and I went up to The Ovens outside Red Lodge yesterday (Sunday).  The weather was looking a bit ominous for a good hour, but the lighting was perfect for some high quality photos.  We lugged our gear up the approach to the base of the crag, and AJ asked, “So, who’s going first?”  We looked around at each other.  We were all tired from yesterday’s romp at Spire Climbing Center in Bozeman.  AJ looked at me.  “You want to mock lead today, or try lead climbing, or…?”  Yeah.  Yeah, I’ll try lead climbing today.  “Awesome!” AJ exclaimed happily.  We all got our harnesses on and I grabbed my Solutions with 10 quickdraws on my harness (five on each side).  “Which rope do we want to use?”  The blue one.  Emily asked why we were using the blue one.  “Because that’s the one we’ve been using.  It’s the one we’re most comfortable with.  It’s a comfort level.”  AJ headed down the hill with the rope bag containing the blue rope.  I followed, stopping at the base of the route to put my Solutions on.  After tying in with my figure-eight knot, AJ and I did our partner checks and I stretched out a bit.  Emily had her camera ready.  She said the lighting was great.  Everything was in place for my first lead climb.

Fist bump with AJ.  Climbing!  “Climb on!”  AJ had me on lead belay and I began my first lead climb journey up the 5.7 route. I was confident, but respectfully so.  I knew I could get to the third bolt, at the very least.  I clipped the first quickdraw into the bolt, then clipped the rope.  Perfect.  The rope was flowing out toward me.  Upward and to the left I climbed to clip the second bolt.  There was a good rest just beyond that.  Quickdraw clipped.  Rope clipped in properly, as this one was a tricky one to remember which way to clip in.  Okay, traverse right and up slightly to the third bolt.  This was a difficult section, but I could manage it.  I got to the third bolt and clipped in.  Yes!  I rested on belay for a few minutes, shaking out and chalking up.  Okay.  I got to the right of the third bolt and had both of my feet in a large hueco, resting.  The fourth bolt was straight above me and the footwork here was tricky.  “You’re killing it!” AJ encouraged from below.  It was an entirely different mindset.  The concentration was intense.  The focus was incredible.  Crossovers were flowing.  I was within reach of the fourth bolt.  My left foot was placed in a divot just above the third bolt.  I reached.

Everything went into slow motion.  I felt my left foot begin to slip.  Looking down, I tried to readjust it.  I looked back up.  Feeling my foot slip, I looked down to see it caught beneath the quickdraw.  I remembered AJ’s words to me before I began climbing.  “If you start to fall, just backpedal as fast as you can.”  I tried backpedalling, but my left foot was caught.  I contemplated whether to say the “F”-word or the “S”-word.  I stepped back with my right foot and it landed in the hueco a few feet down.  I saw the blue sky with the clouds in it.  I felt a jolt at my waist, then heard a thunk as something hit the back of my helmet.  Looking around, I was looking upward at the ground, my arms above my head, and my glasses resting on my eyebrows.  I was inverted.  I was also laughing so hard because it had been such a rush that it was hilarious to me.  AJ asked, “Are you okay?!”  Yes, I said through the laughter.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to get myself out of the predicament, but I told Emily she had better be getting some pictures of this, still laughing.  AJ said later that it was a great sign that I was laughing because he knew I was okay.  There I was, hanging upside-down by a rope, laughing, looking upward at the ground.  “Okay, grab the rope attached to your harness,” AJ instructed, laughing himself.  “Okay, yeah.  Now use the rock and pull yourself up, okay.  You can even face outward.”  I wrapped my right heel around the end of the rope that ran to AJ’s GriGri and pulled myself up with it, while also pulling with my right arm against the knotted end of my rope and my left hand on the rock.  “There you go, use whatever you can!”  I righted myself.  I shouted down that I was done.  AJ, still laughing, said, “Okay,” and dirted me.  Fist bump!  I was still laughing.  I had truly not been scared, and I told AJ that.  “That’s good!”  AJ asked, “So what were you thinking,” at this point and that point during the climb.  I talked through the climb, the moves, and the fall with him as I untied my figure-eight knot from my harness.  “Break time for a little bit?  While your heart rate goes back down some?” AJ asked.  Yeah.  AJ asked Emily to go down to the truck and get the Tylenol Arthritis.  “Yeah, when that shot of adrenaline wears off, you’re going to feel it.”  And I did.  Thank God I had taken the Tylenol Arthritis, or I would have really been in some pain.  “Are you wrecked?” AJ asked about a half an hour later.  Yes.  I was wrecked.  Everything hurt.  My right ankle, the one that had been in a brace for almost two decades, was a bit swollen and hurt the worst.  I decided to call it a day for myself due to the ankle.  AJ said, “Yeah, your first lead climb and you took your first lead fall!  Haha, you also inverted, which is kind of the worst-case scenario, but you did great!  Now you’ve got it out of the way and you’re solid!  The only thing left to do is finish the route!”  I was pleased with the experience.  And still laughing.

Now Emily decided to lead.  And she led the entire 5.7 the first time without falling!  She also led a 5.8 on the neighboring crag without falling, which was a true onsight!  I was so incredibly proud of her!!!  Emily really did a spectacular job!  She is quite the climber – strong, confident, and determined.  AJ worked a few parts of the 5.8 that turned it into a 5.11 while I had him on toprope and Jim and Chris Northcutt came up the trail and visited us.  They are great people!  I was glad to see them.  I told them about my inversion experience and they were glad I could laugh about it.  I was, too.  So much for “taking it easy” today…again.

We ate at Red Lodge Pizza Co. and looked through Emily’s photos on her DSLR.  She got some great ones!  I got some good ones of her onsighting that 5.8, too!  The drive home was a quiet one, as we were all worn out.  I love these two – AJ and Emily, my climbing partners.  Thank God for them and the many adventures we have together!  By the way, during my successful inversion on my first lead fall on my first lead climb ever, I ended up exclaiming the “S”-word.  My mother would have been proud.

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