My mother, like many reasonable parents, does not particularly approve of my rock-and-ice-climbing endeavors, which I began earlier this year when I came to school. Until last summer, I had been terrified of heights; when I came to Colorado College, I started climbing partially to combat this phobia. Recently, I started lead climbing, taking the rope up with me as I climbed and clipping into protection as I went up the wall.
Neither of my parents are particularly comfortable with the idea of me hanging 60 feet off the ground, climbing up the crumbly sandstone of Garden of the Gods. So, logically, when my mother came to visit last weekend, I immediately found two friends, a rope, and headed to Garden of the Gods.
Although my mother did not get on the rock much that Friday after struggling with the starting move of a climb, she watched as sophomore Zach Keskinen, freshman Dan Norton, and I took turns ascending routes with varying degrees of grace and speed.
As Norton and Keskinen took turns running up a route, my mother turned to me with a huge smile and started listing the reasons she now approves of my climbing. For example, it builds trust and communication; she had watched as we checked each others’ harnesses, went through pre-climbing commands, and gave each other firemen’s belays.
The little things that climbers take for granted, like the amount of trust placed in your climbing partner, were incredible for my mother to witness. An endurance athlete, the most adventurous my mom usually gets is Nordic skiing. Just watching me climb was exciting for her.
Enthused by watching me climb earlier in the day, my mother encouraged me to lead the next route. I had climbed it before and was reluctant to disappoint, so I tied in and started up the climb. Just above the last bolt, there is a tricky traverse which involves leaving a friendly crack for slab—or sloped rock with very small holds. After hesitating too long to think, my left foot gave out on the move and I fell.
With a yelp, I slid 12 feet before Keskinen halted my fall– no fault of his, only because I was above my last bolt and ropes are meant to stretch. A little scraped up, and badly shaken, I realized that I had taken my very first lead-climbing fall in front of my mother.
We took a break from climbing for a day to do the Incline, during which I told her what I knew about the physics of falling, but on Sunday we returned to Garden of the Gods with freshmen Jamie Sarafan and Ellen Smith. This time, Sarafan went into full “guide mode.” A first-year rock climbing guide at Front Range Climbing Company, Sarafan is experienced in getting new climbers up walls.
With a significant amount of coaching, Sarafan belayed my mother up the majority of Potholes, a popular route. Although she was shaky on her way down, she demanded to see the photos and was clearly very excited. She texted me from the airport on Monday saying that she really wanted not only to learn more about climbing, but for me to take my younger sister out. Showing her the lessons I learned in climbing was clearly the best way to win support from a skeptical mother.