Going down a cliff face while attached to a rope is exhilarating. Gravity is my friend. When, however, said cliff face must be scaled in the opposite direction, the word ‘exhilarating’ would never cross my mind. “Why did I sign up for this?!?” is far more accurate.
In the world of climbing and rescuing, what goes down must often come up. There are handheld mechanical devices that fasten to an anchored rope, with one-directional teeth that grip the rope when downward force is applied yet glide smoothly when being pushed upward. If one then attaches these devices to web ladders for one’s feet, one can create foot straps that will move in concert with the ascender and hand on the same side of the body. I stand on my left foot, slide the right ascender up the rope while lifting my right foot in the webbing loop, and extend that right leg to stand in the higher loop. Repeat with the left. Sounds easy? It isn’t.
Whatever mood I was in as I struggled with the rope and the devices and all my harness attachments and the various adjustments — well, for a moment, I embraced “I can’t” as a possible out. I was hanging on my rope with no strength in my arms, trying to muscle these stubborn ascenders higher, and it felt as if the rope, my belay line, my own trembling leg muscles, my utter inexperience, and the rock face all conspired against me. Fortunately, my teammates shouted out helpful advice like “hug the rock,” “shift your weight to your left leg,” “Good! You can do this!” etc., and I finally (with grunting and gracelessness) completed the twenty-foot ascent.
Scootching (there is no other suitable word) over the lip at the cliff top, I realized gratefully that somewhere in the middle of this climb a light bulb had gone on and I began to feel the rhythm of the alternating sides of my body moving up the wall. My heart was pounding and my mouth had zero saliva by the time I topped out, but I was SO pleased that I had not given in to the temptation to be a wimp… especially with my very capable colleagues looking on. Let’s hear it for peer pressure.