My first rock climbing experience — disregarding a one-off outing in northern Laos years ago with my sister — was this past weekend at one of the premier climbing spots in the northeast: Rumney, New Hampshire. My buddy Jeff had promised to show me the ropes after months of practice indoors, which seemed a fair trade after I introduced him to winter hiking in the White Mountains this past February. Granted, we nearly died.
But so it goes on the mountain, brah.
On Friday after work, I hopped in a car with Jeff and several others. Six hours later we arrived to a rented colonial cabin in Rumney, broke out the celebratory Scotch, and quickly woke up the other dozen New Yorkers who’d already arrived for a weekend of climbing. In retaliation, they woke us up at 6:30am the next morning.
After coffee, we all drove a couple miles up the road and into White Mountain National Forest to Rattlesnake Mt, aka Rumney.
(I was thinking, 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney could have scored some brownie points with the youth vote by staging a “Romney rocks Rumney” climbing trip for the press last year. Then again, he might have fallen off the rock and died, as my mother said she feared for me this past weekend. In any case, Romney’s political life appears lifeless now.)
In all, I was able to get in four climbs over a seven-hour period. Which doesn’t sound like much. But the climbs were more rewarding and exhilarating than back at the gym. I was griping solid granite. Scrambling up the side of a mountain. Hanging high.
My first climb was on “The Green Mile,” rated 5.9. On the scale of difficulty, 5.9 is the harder side of easy, while from 5.10 to 5.12 you’re climbing moderate routes, and anything 5.13 or above is very difficult. “Green Mile” was a fun challenge for me and I fell several times.
Below left is me at the top of “Scene of the Crime” (rated 5.10a). Below right is Jeff belaying Pinar up a long 5.10 route.
“Millenium Falcon” carried us through the afternoon. The Star Wars-inspired route was rated 5.10c and ranked three stars, the highest possible, because of its views over the valley and variety of positions and holds. Something about it seemed to call to Jeff, and he convinced me to walk a half mile and up a muddy ledge to the starting point on a piece of rock so narrow that I had to be tethered into the rock wall to prevent from accidentally falling backward 50 feet as he climbed (thereby killing both of us).
I belayed while Jeff led, meaning that as he climbed he also clipped his carabiners into bolts already fastened into the rock. The route veered left onto a narrow ledge outcropping, then laced up a vertical wall that offered minimal holds: vertical cracks, long reaches, leg swings, and a lot of imagination to figure out how to shift one’s weight up the crag.
Jeff at first started up the wrong route, then retraced his steps, restarted, and was quickly out of sight. I could only see his umbilical climbing cord winding back down the cliff to where it was tethered into my waist. I only knew Jeff was still alive when I’d feel a pull, or hear him yell “take!” About 60 minutes after he left, I suddenly heard laughing. “Killer climb, brah!” he yelled. Then he repelled down, and it was my turn to suffer the fun.
Around 5pm we packed up and walked back to the car, stopping for a dip in a crisp and clear swimming hole. We stripped down and jumped in.