Nov 16, 2007
On the Rocks
You stand facing sheer rock, rock pocked with almost imperceptible indentations and tiny clefts that are expected to provide support for your hands and feet. Around your waist is a harness; attached to it is a rope that leads up, up, up to an anchor unseen somewhere above you. You combat the tendency to question the reliability of the harness, the strength of the rope, the stability of the anchor by refusing to entertain the questions, by shutting down your imagination. Where do I start? Tenatively, you begin to climb, putting hands and feet on. . .what? You’re not sure. But something. Somehow you are moving up the rock face. But then you stall, muscles straining, your hands being cut by the razor edges of the volcanic rock, your mind on the brink of rushing into panic. You stay calm by sheer will. You look around for where to go next, but you don’t look down. Ever.
It is. . .sort of. To be honest, the moments I described above are not really that fun at all, but ironically it is those very not-so-fun moments that make the whole experience so deeply gratifying and yes, in fact, quite fun. This past weekend I went rock climbing for the first time in my life and I had a blast. We actually went twice; first on Sunday afternoon and then again Monday morning. I’m particularly grateful to the experienced climbers Allan, Steve, and Ken who helped me learn the ropes. They were very generous with their expertise and if they were ever annoyed that newbies like me were hogging up the climbs they’d so carefully set, they never let on. It was exhilarating to be up there, perched on the edge of some really fantastic views of the northern end of Saipan—especially Monday morning when we weren’t climbing ahead of encroaching darkness. There were moments of true beauty, watching a white tern floating in the drafts below, butterflies whispering among us as we stood among the crags, and a double rainbow that welcomed us to our first climb Sunday afternoon. All of these things were nice, but they wouldn’t have been half as rewarding if I’d just been there to watch, if I hadn’t tested myself against the rock. The challenge of climbing made entire experience much richer.
Getting roped in for the climb.
That's me on the intermediate climb on Monday morning.
Allan, in the beard and sunglasses, is an attorney here on Saipan and an experienced rock climber and sensei to us newbies.
Lately, I’ve developed a yearning for adventures—I’ve spent nine years on Saipan and barely scratched the surface of the adventures that await on this little island. Maybe it started last year with Grant, and our forays into the Saipan hinterlands—whatever the case, the thirst for action is definitely there. One of my August “new year’s” resolutions was to be “more active” and so far I have been keeping that resolution. I’m getting recertified to dive, I’m working out at the gym and running, and now, I’m rock climbing. All of these activities have in common those “not-so-fun” moments—those times where, if I let myself, I’d wonder “why on earth am I doing this?” The answer to that question, I think, tells a truth about life. Nothing truly rewarding and worthwhile comes without effort, without some pain, without some sacrifice. We suit up in a bunch of heavy gear to go underwater, we challenge ourselves to run to the top of Mt. Tapochau, we face that imposing rock wall, because we know that the struggle is worth the cost, that there is great reward in pushing ourselves a little farther, a little higher than we would ordinarily be comfortable going. These activities shouldn’t be unremitting misery—and they generally aren’t, but there has to be that element of discomfort for it to be worthwhile.
Jessica on her first climb ever, on the "easy" rock I climbed the same rock on Sunday then shifted to the intermediate climb on Monday.
Ken Pierson finds a new--and much more difficult path up the intermediate face.
Mai rocks the rock. The last time she went climbing, her picture ended up in one of the local magazines!
Judith on the advanced climb, above, and approaching the top, below. That's the one I want to try next!
Babs has been gone this past week and I’ve been looking for ways to entertain myself. I’ve watched a lot of movies and I’ve also gone rock climbing, and I have to admit that while watching movies was a lot easier, less painful, and less scary, I felt ten times better when I finally reached the small summit of that rock than I did when the DVD finished. The movie required nothing of me but my passive attention; the rock required more than I thought I could give, but it was the activity that required the most of me that gave me back the most.