For a change of pace from my normal training routine, I took the weekend in Vermont with some friends and our kids. We ran. We hiked. We swam in icy pools formed by waterfalls. We climbed, too. It had been about 10 years since the last time I went rock climbing — and that was at an indoor gym. I vaguely remembered all the terms and techniques. Belay. Figure-8 knots. Three-point contact. Once on the rock, it came back quickly.
In general, I’m a bit afraid of heights. The anxiety comes not so much from the height, but from the runaway, on-the-fly, causality-and-consequence analyses conducted by my brain. I feel it on bridges. I feel it on extensions ladders. I feel it on the tops of mountain passes when I look down, way down to the valleys below.
So I try to confront it.
At the top the of climb, some 60 feet in the air, I forced myself to look down, felt my stomach drop and went cold and clammy with fear. I had trust in my belayer. I had trust in the top rope and double-anchor system… Come to think of it, the rope did look a little frayed. How old was it, anyway? I couldn’t help wondering how long it would take to hit the ground if the rope were to give. Or how the embrace of the earth would feel at the terminus.
The thrill of the repel down erased it all and the adrenalin lasted the long car ride home.