Joshua Tree Climbing Clinic
After lunch, I set my sights on a much harder climb. I stood before it for quite some time before deciding where there might be a hold big enough to start. Steve pointed out some possibilities, all of which looked impossibly tiny. I placed my right foot onto a peanut-sized knob, found a little ledge for each hand, and tried to lift my left foot into a crack. No luck. After several tries that got me no more than two feet off the ground, I gave up and moved to an easier route. I felt deflated.
For the rest of the afternoon, we shimmied up chimneys, jammed our hands into cracks, and shifted our limbs from hold to hold. Like most climbs in Joshua Tree National Park, these routes were all less than 50 feet. So we had time to sample a little bit of everything in a single day.
It was almost time to pack everything up when I decided to give the harder route one more try. I'd seen everyone else in the group struggle their way to the top, including the only other woman among us. We were all in our 20s and 30s and in relatively good shape. I tried to convince myself that if they could do it, so could I.
I faced the rock, grabbed some hand holds, concentrated on putting weight on the foot that was smearing, and stood up. To my surprise, I didn't slip. Steve pointed to a nice, flat foot hold a little bit higher than I thought I could reach, but I made a swing for it, then grabbed a big knob nearby and managed to stay put. Fingers cramping and legs shaking, I inched my way up that rock, knowing that I'd go home much happier if I made it to the top.
In truth, my belayer had to support me a couple of times so that I could rest without giving up entirely. But I decided not to think of it as cheating. At the top, I heaved my upper body onto a wide, flat surface and hugged the warm granite for a bit longer than was probably appropriate. I had made it, and I'll be damned if I didn't feel like a real climber.
That night, as I nursed my scuffed-up forearms and sore fingertips, I wasn't quite so enthusiastic about claiming that title. I'll probably always think of myself as more of a hiker than anything else. But the next time I go for a walk in the desert and happen upon a group of happy climbers, at least I'll be able say to myself, Yeah, I get it.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication