Wednesday 6 November 2019

Small steps

Climbing at Skaha Bluffs

Lately, whenever the weather is warm enough and the day ahead is free, I've been trekking into the rocky bluffs just outside of town with two or three friends. We take water, salty snacks, maybe some fruit and hot tea, and gear: ropes, carabiners, harnesses, shoes and helmets. The gear dangles from our backpacks as we hike in on one of the numerous trails that snake between the cliffs and crags.

It's beautiful to hike in here among the fragrant bent pines stretching into clear blue sky, to hear the tattoo of woodpeckers, and see hawks wheeling overhead. But we're not here to hike.

In the parking lot, we've pored over our climbing book and picked a rockface that the sun will warm throughout this crisp fall day.  We're beginners, so we've picked a couple of climbs that aren't too difficult, but offer us a bit of challenge.

At the crag, we rig up our climbing anchors and ropes, paying careful attention to the knots -- double fisherman's, figure eight, girth hitch. Our lives literally depend on getting these knots right. We dial in and focus. The outside world drops away. Dimly, I'm aware of carabiners clinking musically like bells on a donkey in a sleepy village. Sunshine and wind. The cool rock beneath my fingers.

Each time I begin to climb, stepping onto a tiny swell of rock that I'm going to call a foothold, running my fingers hopefully over the cliff to find something, anything, my fingers can cling to, a voice in my head says, "You can't do this."

My stomach roils a little and adrenaline quakes through my limbs. It is possible that the voice is right. I should have started climbing thirty years ago.  Not now, when I'm closer to 60 than 50. The thing is, it may have taken me this long to realize that in every beginning, there is the potential for failure. And failure isn't the end of the world. It's not even the end of the climb.

Every time my toe presses into an indent the size of a cashew, I take a chance at failure. When I choose a path for my climb, there's the chance I'll have to re-think my decision partway up the rockface when I can't find anything to hold onto.

I recently heard a climbing instructor tell a group of climbers to take small steps instead of looking for one big one. It's good advice, I found. I take a small step and the rock looks different. What seemed impossible suddenly becomes possible.

I'm learning how a small step can open up a bunch of new possibilities.