Andersen: On ropes and rocks |

Andersen: On ropes and rocks

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The crack runs up the granite slab about a fist wide. I insert my right hand and feel a slight bump. It offers enough purchase that I can lean back and move my right foot six inches higher.

I’m wearing used climbing shoes for which I paid $40. They’re a little large, so I’m wearing socks. Real climbers would wince at that, but then I’m not a real climber, so socks are OK.

Now that I’m on a near vertical wall, I’m amazed at the grip these shoes have on the sparkling granite with which I am now personally attached in what you might call a sole connection.

My son is standing on a narrow ledge 50 feet above. He takes in the rope with every move I make. “You’re crushin’ this, Dad! You’re doing awesome!”

My heart is racing as I work my way up the crack, just a few inches at a time. It is a Sunday morning, and I can’t help picturing myself enjoying a concert among the cognoscenti at the Benedict Music Tent. Perhaps I’m more of a social climber.

My son, Tait, is a lithe, strong, 21-year-old monkey who is more optimistic about my abilities than I. There is something counterintuitive about willfully clinging to this slab of granite in the upper Fryingpan River Valley, far above the rushing river.

Driving that morning from home at Seven Castles, we turned left onto the Pan. That’s the preferred way to turn — away from Highway 82, away from traffic, congestion and the thrum of the main valley. Here the road is empty and the river flows gently.

Beyond Ruedi, Meredith and Thomasville, the valley opens to huge timbered ridges and distant jutting peaks. “What a place to live!” I exult to Tait. He smiles his shared gratitude, and I am comfortable being in his young, capable hands for this climbing crucible.

My trust in Tait has to be complete if I’m to have any confidence on the rope and rock, so I throw all my cares onto his shoulders in a way few parents do with their offspring. I will do everything Tait tells me, without question, and accept his every judgment as if my life depends on it, which it does.

Tait locates the cairn on the dirt road and we gather our gear. I dump the rope bag into my pack along with a harness, rain jacket, water bottle, climbing shoes and first-aid kit. The pack is heavy, almost equal to what I would carry for an overnight trip.

Getting to the climb is sketchy, as we work our way through enormous granite boulders that have incredibly sharp edges. Raspberries are in profusion, so we snack on them while finding our way to the base of the slab.

“Just relax, breathe and follow my chalk marks,” instructs Tait as he ties on for the first pitch. I glance at the route and feel jittery. “It’s bolted, so it’s totally safe,” he assures me. “I’ll catch you on the rope in case you fall.”

Falling is not part of my plan. I have an innate aversion to gravitational surrender from high places. Most people do. It’s a basic survival instinct. And here I am inviting it.

“Climbing!” Tait announces. He places a toe, reaches his hand and moves up the rock like a spider, pausing to consider a few of the moves. That gives me qualms because if Tait pauses, then I will most certainly pause. And if I pause too long, my logical mind may take control and dismiss the blind faith that’s brought me to this vertical world.

Tait moves more fluidly as he warms up, and I take in the rope. He disappears over a bulge. Vocal shorthand communicates essentials, and soon I’m climbing.

Three pitches later, over a time continuum that can’t be defined in linear fashion, we are at the top. We do fist bumps and survey the valley, two small humans on a huge cliff. I can’t believe what I have just climbed, and I recognize a new trust in Tait that goes well beyond ropes and rocks.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at