Getting Up There

Been running a lot. Haven’t touched the road bike in … a couple months? It’s been a time to go back and enjoy the mountain bike trails I like most, and expand my trail running to a steady pace I can hold for 90 minutes. But that gets boring too. So, when the opportunity arose to try something new and different, I climbed aboard.

Last weekend I found myself atop a 20-foot-ish rock face with a beautiful view of … the Chestnut Hill Mall in Newton. And I was wearing a dominatrix-style belt and ballerina shoes. Whoa, bad dream? Actually, it was a dream come true.

While I’d been rock climbing indoors this fall, I craved the challenge of outdoor climbing. At work, I’m surrounded by climbers who leave their homes before dawn to get in a climb before their shift. I wish I could articulate what it is about climbing that’s so attractive to me: the risk? the self-challenge? the need for a ridiculous amount of new gear?

along with 100-foot sections of shock cord, harnesses, special shoes, helmets, crash pads... you can never have too many carabiners

My intro to outdoor climbing came at the hands of fellow EMS employees and guide Luke Foley at Hammond Pond reservation in Newton. I had to look at the directions twice: isn’t that the parking lot for the mall? Yes, indeed. And I could see Macy’s clearly from the top of the rock. Crazy.

Yet for all of the counter-culture hipness and youthful vibe of climbing, there’s nothing haphazard or left to chance when there’s corporate liability resting on the shoulders of a guy like Luke who plays for a living. Hence the helmets, harnesses, new rope, and triple anchors. Contrast that with the guy who walked over to the rock next to us, took off his shoes and proceeded to climb without a net/crash pad.

Punctuating the grunting, scraping and cursing of climbing was a lot of information about doing it right. Almost too much. We ascended the rock on foot three or four times to learn new anchor techniques and uses for all of that gear that Luke carries. There’s an anchor for climbing over the top, anchor gear that looks like medical devices, and decisions to make about the strength of trees that virtually every climber in suburban Boston has tied a rope to. And we tried a couple different belaying devices, sometimes anchoring to a tree at the bottom so the belayer didn’t get airborne if a climber fell. All good to know.

the anchor that lets you get over the top

No, I don’t remember all of the clove hitches and tricky stuff he did with the ropes. I was focused on getting up the rock without smearing my face against it, using the vertical cracks to my advantage without breaking an ankle in the process.

when you only have cracks to anchor to... the little pieces of gear all start to make sense

for all of its counter-culture hipness, I was happy to see prudence and security holding the other end of the rope (triple anchoring in cracks)

What a way to spend a beautiful Saturday in fall. I’m thinking this could be fun… and I’m thinking ice climbing could be in my future too!

Mitch going up the crack

me going over the top

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