On Friday morning I finally made it out to climb at Harpers Ferry, a beautiful area overlooking the river where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia come together. Long known for its moderate multi-pitch trad routes, as well as Maryland's only grade IV aid route, a few local climbers have recently braved the chossy reputation to establish several harder lines. After months of following Dan's progress in establishing some of these routes, as well as lending my gargantuan #6 Camalot to the cause, I finally had an opportunity to see the area with him firsthand.
After pointing out the various routes to me, Dan led the way to his latest project, the base of which sits at the top of Whirlwind. At somewhere around 75 feet, with a reasonable crux in the 5.10- range, this approach should have been no problem. It was, however, the first time since November that I've been on a rope outside. I don't know what it is about the presence of a rope that instantly triggers anxiety, but for some reason my first roped experience of the year is embarrassing to say the least. I suppose I could write it off as a normal case of first-time jitters, that is if jitters can be said to involve clinging desperately to draws and making upward progress of roughly ten feet per minute, and on at least three occasions hanging from the bolt anchor above. I could even make the excuse that I'm still recovering from injury, and had only the day before attempted any routes in the 5.10 range in the gym. In truth, I know the recovery process had nothing to do with it, and I would have found myself just as nervous were I on 5.4 terrain. My flailing was all the more embarrassing in light of the fact that for Dan, this was only the warmup for the imposing multi-tiered roofs waiting above.
I suppose the good news is that, while I'm always scared the first time I rope up each year, the second time is always business as usual. In addition, I noticed that the usual anxiety I feel on my first multi-pitch belay was absent this time, as was any nervousness I usually feel on my first rappel. I wish I knew how to get rid of the fears altogether, but small victories are still victories, and I'll settle for two out of the three. I'll even take the bonus points for being willing to put my camera lens two inches below the black widow I saw later in the day.
Still, maybe some amount of nervousness is a good thing, if it keeps me aware of what I'm doing. As my good friend Timm once said about racing, though I find it equally applicable to climbing:
I always associated nervous with prepared. My thinking goes, if you are nervous then you understand what is out in front of you. The flip side being of course that if you aren’t nervous you don’t understand the gravity of the situation. It’s when I’m not nervious that I worry.Stay tuned for more photos and video of the day in "A day at Harpers Ferry Part II: Bouldering tour."