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Cathedral Ledge

Anybody else afraid of heights or conquered any traveling fears? 

Rock Climb View

I look up and to the right at the cranny barely the size of a thumb perched a foot beyond my reach.

My heart pounds heavily as I contemplate the mechanics of swinging up while supporting my weight with the strength of my left hand. A bead of sweat trickles from my hairline and rolls slowly down the corner of my face, tickling my nerves. I force myself to not look down, down into the void of nothing below. “Concentrate on the physics of your move,” I tell myself, but my eyes yearn to gaze underneath my awkwardly placed feet. I can feel my arm and shoulder muscles tauten into coiled springs as I prepare to leap into my next position. My life will depend on the landing.

Conquering Self

I am afraid of heights, yet this is my tenth time attempting to climb the sheer face of a rock cliff. I have not managed to rid myself of my fear. Perhaps someday I will. In the meantime, I attempt to physically accomplish what my mind tells me is impossible. To put my faith in a length of harness and give science precedence over my emotions. The climbs are grueling events, but at the end, when I am standing assuredly on top with solid rock under my feet, there is a sense of euphoric achievement. Each time I manage to clamber my way through every hand and foothold and inch towards the summit, I place a tiny victory flag in my mind. It is not the precipitous mountain face or rock wall I have conquered, it is my weaker self.

Rock Climb Hand

Failure Is Not An Option

There are brave people who love free soloing where they attempt to master the escarpments without the aid of ropes, anchors, or team mates. While I admire their ferocity, I could not make my ascents without fellow climbers to counsel me, lead the way, and cheer me on. When they share stories of their own triumphs and struggles in life, I am encouraged to continue my endeavors. As I concentrate on honing my rock climbing skills and learning various techniques, I can put my fear of heights to the back of my mind. The moment a crag seems too far to reach or a swing too intricate to manage, I find my climbing companions constantly motivating me. The problem with rock climbing is that you can never give up. Once I have begun my scramble along the ridge, I cannot decide I want to quit and turn around. Nor can I stay in the same place on the ledge forever. There is only one way to finish: at the top. This is the best problem to have in life because failure never becomes an option.

Rock Climb Hold

My Next Move

Rock climbing has allowed me to become intimate with nature itself. Where else can I be so physically close to a rock face? Or feel that I could reach out and touch the flight path of birds? Or see how the tiniest and most delicate of flowers can grow in the gap of a stony fracture? It provides me with inspiration and allows me a way out of myself, beyond my tangled web of insecurities. Against the beauty of my surroundings, held up high on a cliff’s edge, the world outdoors overcomes my terror of heights. I am ready to make my next move.


Whether top roping, bouldering, or lead climbing, remember that safety comes first. Never attempt any climbs alone, especially in unfamiliar terrain, and always make sure you have the right equipment for your rock climbing needs. First-time climbers should be trained by knowledgeable guides before attempting any adventures.

12 replies »

  1. I’ve been contemplating on picking up rockclimbing as a sport (at the gym first). My only conundrum is to find a belay partner. None of my friends want to go. Or is even necessary to have a partner?

    • Awesome that you are thinking of starting to rock climb! It’s absolutely a good idea to have a belay partner when you are starting out. Self belaying is difficult (and unsafe) if you are a beginner. Since you are starting at the gym first (also a good idea), ask them if they have any beginner belay courses available where they partner you up and teach you the basics. Sometimes, climbing individuals looking to partner up also post messages on a gym’s bulletin board (or your gym’s social media boards) so if your gym has one of those check it out. If neither of these works out, you will have to look into joining a climbing club. Best of luck and thanks for stopping by!

      • I braved it and went for a private instruction at the gym. What I learned was that if I hung out long enough at the gym and other climbers see you struggle on that auto belay contraption (is that what they’re called?), they volunteer to belay you, give you pointers, and make friends in the process! REI is also offering an outdoor climbing class for beginners at Tahoe Donner (where I live, sorta) and I’m so close to signing up for that, too. 😊

        • 😀 Thankfully, climbers tend to be a helpful lot. Glad you are making new friends and going on some beginner outings. In the USA, REI is a wonderful resource, both for outdoor activities and volunteer opportunities (and obviously for gear or advice). Good luck on the Tahoe Donner class, it sounds like fun!

  2. You make it sound wonderful, but I still probably won’t do it. 🙂 I’ll settle for the kind of mountain climbing where there’s a path most of the time and you’re not hanging from a cliff (and I’m not even really afraid of heights). That’s amazing that you’re able to do that!

    • 😉 I also love a good mountain hike! You have a better chance of taking in the landscape on your path. Rock climbing doesn’t really leave much room for enjoying the scenery, since I’m too busy making sure I don’t slip.

  3. Very cool! When I hiked up Table Mountain on the Indiavestner Trail, there was a point where you have to kinda rock climb and I was scared, but did it. This is much more intense though. Very nice writing!

    • Thank you Sherry! Glad you liked the piece. I’ve done Table Mountain via the funicular and love the view of Cape Town from the top, but haven’t hiked it. How was the hike on the Indiavestner Trail?

  4. Wow! I’ve contemplated rock climbing but need to work on my strength. Never thought how cool it would be, to be that close to nature.

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