True Confessions of a Novice Climber

The author soaking in the
views. Photo: Stephen Hirai
by Jamie Anderson, Mazama Membership Services Manager

Every month, a copy of Rock and Ice arrives at the MMC. I flip through the glossy pages, look at photographs, and think: Nope. That’s not me. I’m not a real climber. I “sort of” climb. The easy stuff. The local beginner’s routes.  Nothing big.

I will let you in on a little secret, however. Deep down, I am proud of those routes. An even deeper secret: each of these routes, all alpine rock, scared me. I have been listening to our executive director talk about “shared growth experiences in the mountains” for over two years now. For me it is alpine rock where the boot-rubber hits the rock and this concept makes sense—it is where I have felt my comfort zone expand the most.

This could be called the True Confessions of a Novice Climber, or, What Has Made My Knees Wobble:

  • Scree. I used to think that scree fields were benign, stable rocks that one hops across. Not anymore. Now I have a four-fold classification: 1st class: deep and sandy (easy, if exhausting); 2nd class: deep, largish stone (easy to move through but can cause some danger to climbers below or from climbers above); 3rd class: small pebbles on a steep, hard substrate (Wiley E. Coyote on ball-bearings; can I keep control?); 4th class: large, moving rocks on a steep, hard substrate (everything moves, and fast. You can’t trust anything above or below you; getting out of control or being smacked by a boulder are equally unpleasant possibilities.)
  • Fourth-class scrambles. I loved the idea of scrambling until I discovered scrambling with exposure. Something about heights makes me want that rope bad.
  • Rappels. These were fun, AFTER I got started. The first step off of an edge wondering if I put my system together correctly and if that creaking tat is going to hold? Not so fun. My first climbs I ran through BARK at least three times before trusting it, and then I still held my breath on that first long step.
  • Pack weight; or, can I possibly keep up? This is more trepidation than fear. A full day’s gear for all weather, water, food, group gear, up a steep approach has led to the concern of can I cut the cardio mustard?

  • Down climbing. Going down is just like going up in reverse, right? I remember the first time I looked down a stiff scramble and thought: “I have to go back down that?!?”
None of these actually address the actual fifth-class climb, supposedly the most difficult part, but this is where the real “growth experience in the mountains” has come for me. I’ve learned to trust myself and recognize risk. I’ve also discovered  many “ah ha!” moments when I realized I used those fancy gym laybacks and mantles on a block of basalt looking down hundreds of feet to snow slopes and scree fields and miles of forest. My comfort zone grows a bit with every peak, and that’s climbing.