I spent most of today climbing a man-made rock at the Sprinker Recreation Center in Spanaway. The purpose was to get comfortable using ropes and associated equipment such as carabiners, belay devices, and knots. Specifically, we did the following:
- Rock climbing. We each made three short climbs up various parts of the rock which, according to the instructor, were 5.5, 5.7, and 5.8 in difficulty. I wasn't able to do the 5.8 climb. I got stuck halfway up and had to go back down. No arm strength to pull myself over the overhang. The climbing was fun, but I ran into a serious fear of heights at the point where we were supposed to be lowered back down. The initial letting go and placing your weight on the rope and in the hands of the belayer was difficult. A little bit easier the second and third times, but it still bit me in the ass later.
- Belaying. A couple of weeks ago, we covered in the classroom how to tie some useful knots. In this part, we used the Figure 8 knot to attach the rope to a belay device and then apply friction to prevent a person from falling.
- Pulley systems. In this part, we practiced pulling someone up the wall using a C pulley and a Z pulley system. Having taken a class covering Newtonian physics, this was kind of cool to put into practice the use of pulleys and Prusik knots to lower the difficulty of raising someone from a crevasse to the top.
- Rappelling. This was my first time rappelling, which is something like self-belaying yourself down a steep incline. It looks much like it does in movies, except not so smooth because none of us (other than the instructors) were all that smooth. Yet again, my fear of heights reared up during the initial moment when you put your weight on the ropes. The instructors did show us a way that might get me past that. It involves squatting on the edge so that your weight is closer to the rock face, leaning back and lowering yourself to the standard rappelling position. The "normal" way involves swinging out or just lowering yourself from a standing position. Our rope setup only allow the swinging out way though, as the ropes were placed to the side of where we could stand or squat. We had to swing out.
- Climbing ropes. We used two smaller ropes, looped and tied using Prusik knots, to hold the climbing harness and as a platform to stand on. Basically, you stand on one loop tied to your main rope using a Prusik knot and raise the point where the other looped rope (also tied using a Prusik knot) is attached. Then you put your weight (in the harness) on the second rope and raise the first rope. Repeat this as necessary until you are at the top. The process is hard to describe but was surprisingly easy. It also looks pretty cool to see someone swiftly moving up the side of a rock using the technique. Except for our instructors, none of us had done this before. Even the first time, we could climb about 35 feet of sheer rock in about 4 or 5 minutes.
There were three things that were clear from this. First, this wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Second, it was pretty fun to try this stuff out. And last, that I really need to build up some upper body strength if I am going to make a habit of climbing rocks or ropes.
Also, I think I may have eaten a couple of ants.