decided to take a rock climbing lesson on my birthday this year.
Actually, I had been thinking about it for a few years, but between
the cost and the time, I hadn't gotten around to it until now.
We drove up to the North Conway area the
night before, then my wife drove me to
Eastern Mountain Sports in
North Conway in the morning. When I reported for my lesson, I
learned that my instructor would be George Hurley, a legendary
climber and guide who has pioneered a lot of routes in New
Hampshire, the Shawnagunks, and out west.
Before leaving the EMS Climbing School
office, I was fitted for a harness, rock climbing shoes, and a
helmet. Then he drove us up to Cathedral Ledge, where he begun the
lesson talking about rope and knot tying. I didn't have much trouble
learning to tie a Figure 8, a Figure 8 in a Bight, or even a
Rethreaded Figure 8. It did take me a while, however, to get the
hang of a Clove Hitch, although looking back on it, I can't see why
it gave me any trouble.
After that, I learned how to use my Air
Traffic Controller (ATC) to belay him as he climbed the first pitch
up the Thin Air face, just to the left of the standard Thin Air
route, which was very popular that morning. When he reached the
belay ledge and was tied in, he called for me to climb, and I began
my first roped climb, following in his path and removing his
protection along the way. He never covered footwork, handholds, or
any types of moves except to mention that it was more important to
look down to find your next foot placement rather than look up
trying to find a handhold, which is what beginners tend to do. I had
no trouble climbing up to meet him.
Next, he taught me how to rappel back
down, again using the ATC to regulate my rate of descent. He stayed
on the ledge to belay me as I made my way back to the ground. I had
to practice a bit to get used to how far I needed to lean back.
After he rappelled down himself, we
repeated the climb so I could get more practice, going a bit faster
this time. Once we were back down again, we sat down on the rocks
and ate our lunch.
A postcard of
Cathedral Ledge from
Mountain Equipment (IME) in North Conway.