On Squamish Climbing As Some Sort of Religious Experience, and Short People Problems at the Gym

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Short people problems. It’s a thing. Today, using an auto-belay my first time climbing with ropes — save the proper belay course I took two days ago — I felt entitled to complain. Inside my mind. Because, yes, I know, in the words of that belay course instructor, bouldering is “very different” from rope climbing. But it’s not that different, at least not in the gym. Not so different that I can’t tell when a route setter has just created a climb where a short-statured person such as myself either has to just give up or get pretty freakin’ creative. It feels totally unfair, when someone with longer reach can at least get a few metres up the damn wall.

I refuse to believe that nature is so biased in favour of tall people. Rocks in the real world — i.e. outside — must have intermediate holds, right? I mean the entire planet isn’t El Capitan, is it? Of course not. That’s why people like my fellow course attendees last Sunday — who had never outdoor climbed before — were able to plan to take a class in Squamish the following weekend. They were taking the belay course as a prerequisite. The fourth attendee climbed with her boyfriend and was heading with him up to Kamloops and/or Penticton. She also just need a refresher, since he’d already taught her to belay. So, inexperienced climbers, but were ready to take on the outdoors. Maybe outside there were intermediate holds. Or maybe they just have longer reach.

Me, I know no one interested in climbing. Not even indoors. So it’s solo climbing for as long as this obsession lasts. What sucks is that the obsession doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Because after complaining internally today about how if I just had longer reach I could at least just climb for awhile I ended up at the auto-belays set up on the training wall. I got a fair ways up before running out of holds and running out of reach. Next time I’ll try to figure out a way to get up higher so I can actually practice falling back on the damn rope. As it was, I felt like I hadn’t gone high enough that the rope would catch me. So, like a good boulderer, I downclimbed every time. It’s not a terrible habit, really. If you ask me, it’s a good one.

On Sunday, when I was forced to fall back on the rope, I got why my bouldering instructor said a few weeks back he doesn’t trust ropes. I get it. It’s a weird feeling. It’s better to pretend the rope doesn’t exist, I suppose, and just concentrate on using your own body. You know, when you can reach those plastic holds. Holds that some route setter has decided are the right distance apart.

I felt a bit better tonight when I read this forum discussion that said yes, it isn’t just you, gym climbs are biased against short people and nature is typically a bit more inclusive. Granted that discussion is from 2010. And there are plenty of people who would disagree, and say no, there’s no gym bias against short people. But I’ll take it.

I just want to climb, and I’m flexible and strong. Is that so wrong? Just wanting to climb? Why should a rope climb — which was supposed to be easier than bouldering — be a challenge to even start? Don’t rope gyms want to make money? Don’t they know short people want to climb too?

Anyway.

Truth be told, I wasn’t that frustrated. I left the gym feeling confident I’d come back again and the holds wouldn’t seem so far away. I had forgotten about Corky the whale (temporarily). Life was good.

But if you talk to anyone, of course, real climbing doesn’t happen in the gym. Real climbing happens outdoors. Real climbing happens in Squamish. I know this because people at the bouldering gym talk about it all the time, like it’s some kind of pilgrimage site. That’s what it feels like. Unlike those women in my belay course, I couldn’t imagine just showing up as a climbing newbie in Squamish. I feel like you have to be invited, like an initiate, where your guru says “yes, student, you are ready.”

Not that I particularly want to be invited. Because Squamish, although I didn’t grow up there, reminds me too much of my childhood. It looks too wet and mossy, with the boulders hidden within thick forest. I know. It’s a healthy environment and I’m fortunate to live here. But when it comes to outdoor climbing, I’d rather experience something dry and open.

Because I think rock scares me less than forest. Yes, falls happen anywhere, but let’s not forget trees are dangerous too. When I listed out my childhood falls a few weeks ago, I neglected to mention one that left me with a permanent scar on my right forearm. For years, I thought everyone had a scar there, like everyone has a belly button. But as it turns out it had something to do with a bad fall into a tree, or something like that. It’s the kind of knowledge your mother has, or mine did. I don’t actually remember what happened. You can trip so easily in a forest. In dry rock areas, the hazards, I assume, are different — and none of those for me are connected with childhood trauma.

So, my point: outdoor climbing = yes. Squamish = no, guru, unless you think it’s really important to my development into the next plane of existence. But then, if we’re just left with those annoying routes with the plastic holds indoors, I’ll take just about anything, guru. I just want to climb.

And that’s the kind of day it was.

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