Urbanity on Ice

Rappelling 101
  |  Gorp.com
Ice Climbing

Rappelling looks easy. Essentially, you sit back on the rope, set your body at a right angle to the cliff and then fall/walk down. But, my hands damn hands, they're becoming as loathsome as Lady Macbeth's, keep reaching for the wall. My body keeps leaning in. Claude calls, "Walk on the bottoms of your feet!" but my upper body won't allow my feet bottoms anywhere near the ice. I clunk down ingloriously.

After lunch, Claude proposes a more difficult route. The initial section is relatively easy and, although my hands ache, I climb easily. The difficult section, combining purely vertical wall and hard ice, reveals my flawed technique. I'm kicking with a downward motion, which counteracts the upward curve design of the crampon teeth, and my right foot has developed an outward thrust, causing me to kick with only my big toe instead of the whole crampon. I'm also depending so much on my hands that my ax-sets are growing feeble. A sideways foot plant and poor ax-set can result in only one thing. Falling.

A Short Fall

Whoa! Don't look now! It's only two or three stories down, filled with jagged, protruding edges! "Grab!" my brain commands. Sure. Grab what? With what? Holy sh--!

Whop! The fall stops. I'm dangling. My heart's pounding from it's new home in my throat. My head's spinning. In truth, I've only fallen about three feet in the two seconds it took Claude to lock the rope. And, that's why you do this on belay until you're really, really good at it. Because disaster is only a heartbeat or a bad foot-set away.

I re-set myself in the ice and take a breather. But one more try depletes me of all energy. It's time to come down, which I do like a bouncing ball.

As any great entertainer will tell you, it's always best to leave them wanting more. Claude had done that for me. He'd created a climb I could achieve, and one that would challenge. Having risen to the first challenge, I had a taste of victory. Having been unable to reach the second goal, but understanding why I'd failed, left me hungry to try again. I knew I could do it. I WANTED to do it. But first I needed a five-course dinner at one of Quebec City's nearby gourmet restaurants.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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