Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 21, 2010

Lumpy Ridge #2: “Melvin’s Wheel”

Summit of Melvin's Wheel. You can almost hear Wagner (Overture to Tannhauser) playing.

Twelve stories up a granite wall is no place to lose one’s composure, but mine was fleeing fast. There was no place I could see to put my hurting feet, and the smallest hand and finger holds seemed equally elusive. To make matters worse, a summer thunderstorm was rolling in from the west and ominous clouds were gathering for an attack. I looked up to see how much farther I had to climb, and saw nothing but lots more of the same difficult nothingness.

Good job, Ed — you make it look so easy!   [fully zoomed in]

Except... there aren't many holds between here and there.

And it's a long, long, long stretch.

I did what any utterly-inadequate-feeling human being might do. I burst into tears.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of heights. Simply speaking, I was in over my head, had not a clue how I would pull out of it, and I let my emotions get the best of me. I HAD to get up to the top of this climb, as descending was no longer an option after that first pitch was completed. That is a lot of pressure.

The photo says it all.

To be fair, I knew at the start of the day that we were undertaking a route more difficult than yesterday’s pleasant White Whale. My climbing buddy assured me that something rated 5.8+ (plus meaning “more than”) would challenge me, but he was confident I could do it. Ed is a professional climbing and canyoneering guide, and I trust his judgment. Right now, however, it was all I could do to keep from yelling some colorful epithets in his general direction. I was not pleased to be stuck on a crag feeling a sense of desperation and doom, with lightning approaching from behind.

I had already made it through one “crux” (the hardest part of a climb), but everything conspired to make this one feel worse. We had worked on hand techniques before starting, but in the face of meteorological vagaries that could be life-threatening, the ‘jamming’ wasn’t exactly working for me. I was inexperienced enough that I couldn’t punt very well.

Lump in throat. Not smiling.

Panic was rising in my throat as I struggled to focus on even one single thing I could do to propel myself upward. It was then that I heard words come out of my mouth that I rarely allow myself to say: “I can’t do this.” Up there on the wall, halfway between ground and summit, I said it again: “ED, I CAN’T DO THIS.” I meant it, more than I have meant many things. I was convinced that this was an impossible task.

Ed’s voice had a reassuring steady cadence as he calmly directed me blindly from above. “Use your feet. Don’t get tunnel vision. You can do this, Kathryn. Just one small move at a time.” I took a few deep cleansing breaths, more to stop the tears than to fill my lungs, and found the first move I could make. It was only a few inches up, but as I put that slack into the rope and Ed tightened it up immediately from above, he commended me and re-introduced a tiny ray of hope.

Well. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, which included shameless whimpering, more tears, scraped knees and elbows and back, self-pity, thirst beyond describing, and a desperate longing for three magical wishes. I’m rarely a wimp, but on parts of that climb I was a total wuss. It was not pretty, working my way inch by inch out of the slot of doom.

Package says "Snacks for the Bold." I guess I forgot to eat some jerky before climbing.

Ed’s considerable experience guiding all types of people has contributed to his being patient, compassionate, always encouraging. He knows how to empower others to muster the strength to get up and do what needs to be done, even when it looks impossible at the moment. I hope you enjoy the summit photo he took of me as much as I do. It is a reminder of what comes when you push hard at the edges of your ability and refuse to succumb to the “I can’ts” that impinge on your thinking and being. I’d call it a watershed day on the rock.

Our ascent took us up the left face of this crag.


  1. K.

    I experienced some of the same while climbing in Scotland while on Outward Bound.
    When the knees start shaking it kinda stalls you out for a while.

    Has Ed taken you through the slot that Ric got stuck in yet?

    Comment by Bro Mike — July 22, 2010 @ 6:51 am | Reply

    • No. Not yet. The list of places to go is too long!

      Comment by kath56ryn — July 22, 2010 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  2. I had to climb a six foot step ladder into the loft of my shed. Your experience gave me the courage to complete my climb…..

    Comment by john — July 22, 2010 @ 8:10 am | Reply

    • Glad to have helped. That’s what big sisters are for.

      Comment by kath56ryn — July 22, 2010 @ 9:54 am | Reply

  3. Good job sis..we knew you could do it…especially with a pro like Ed. Ed, thank you for getting my sister to the top…what a great climbing team you two make!

    Comment by chris — July 22, 2010 @ 8:30 am | Reply

    • I wouldn’t say “great,” but I readily admit I couldn’t have done it on my own. I am grateful that he pushed me beyond my limit.

      Comment by kath56ryn — July 22, 2010 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  4. I’m wondering – how ever did you get down from this adventure?
    Chris Y

    Comment by chrisyoungman — July 22, 2010 @ 11:22 am | Reply

    • We rappelled down to a ledge that had a walk-off trail descending to the starting point. Just imagine a steep incline along the flank of this crag. Nice way to get down.

      Comment by kath56ryn — July 24, 2010 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

  5. talk about a mountaintop experience!!!!!!!! Great job, Kathryn! And happy birthday a few days early. Love you–Katie

    Comment by Kate Kresse — July 22, 2010 @ 5:47 pm | Reply

  6. Awwww, come over and I’ll give you a hug!

    Comment by triciao — July 22, 2010 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  7. Wow, Kathryn!! What are you thinking!!?? I think I’d better be praying for you a bit more fervently and yes, I’m telling Snow about this!! Love ya!!

    Comment by kathy lewis — July 22, 2010 @ 7:55 pm | Reply

    • I am grateful for your prayers! You make me laugh with the “what are you thinking” question — I’m thinking I have to gain some improved rock climbing skills, and the only way to gain them is to climb hard stuff!

      Comment by kath56ryn — July 24, 2010 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  8. (snip) “He knows how to empower others to muster the strength to get up and do what needs to be done, even when it looks impossible at the moment.”
    This sounds like Ed must be a big fan of Powdermilk Biscuits . . .

    Comment by LeRoque — July 22, 2010 @ 11:37 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: