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Opinion

Climbing wall a good way to get in touch with adventurous side

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February 28, 2017

By February, most people who have bothered to make resolutions for the new year have left those same declarations by the wayside. I resolved not to make a resolution this year, but that does not mean that I have shut out any notions of self-improvement altogether.

Basically, that means that occasionally I eventually find the courage to try something that challenges me. This may sound trivial, but as a self-conscious control freak, this is no small feat.

This past weekend, I made my maiden voyage to the new Falcon Center. After winding my way through the dark and partially-completed parking lot, I swiped my student I.D. card and there was no turning back. I donned a pair of wildly-patterned leggings, a strappy safety harness and Velcro rock climbing shoes. While I may have been outfitted in the proper equipment, sadly, there was not enough white, powdery chalk in the world to dry out my sweating palms.

It was quite intimidating to crane my neck and look at the rainbow of climbing holds that rose to the ceiling. Behind me, far more experienced climbers ascended, swung and dropped down with dusty thuds from the bouldering wall.

They climbed without the use of ropes attached to a belayer, a climber holding a rope for the other climber, instead using only thick mats underneath them as a safety precaution in case they should lose their grip and fall off the wall. I could only look wide-eyed as climbers jumped and swung from hold to hold on the bouldering wall.

I tried to forget the show of muscles on display as I needed to concentrate on my own abilities. My athleticism, or lack thereof, was not my only cause of concern, which really was a first. I was far more worried by the height of the climbing walls.

While I have always been vaguely aware that I was not overtly fond of heights, my phobia reached epic levels in 2013 when I found myself looking down at the ground from a very high vantage point at the very top of Mont St. Michel, France, and my fear has increased dramatically since then.

Toward the end of the night, and after trying to self repel myself up and down a wall with an automatic rope, I barely got a couple feet off the ground. I turned to a professional and was hooked up to a belayer. As a disclaimer to my belayer, I conceded my extreme fear of being up high, and also that I had trust issues about the rope. Saying this out loud did not seem to ease my anxieties, but it did increase the embarrassment I felt.

I followed the instructions of my belayer and “rainbowed” it up the wall, choosing any color holds that I felt would best to hold on to. And hold I did. My strategy was to climb as far as I could before I realized how far away the ground was, stop, require a pep talk and a lot of encouragement from the people assembled below, climb farther up the wall and repeat. It was not a quick experience by any means.

Once I was finally at the top, I found that I would rather dig my toes in and clutch at the tiny holds on the walls than repel down. Finally, with my toes protesting and my fingers cramping, there really was no avoiding the fact that I could not stay at the top forever.

Trusting the rope to bring me back down to the ground proved to be the most challenging part of the whole climb. I quickly forgot about the muscles aching in my untoned arms. I was lowered down the wall, trying to control how much I swayed and swung the whole way. I finally hit the bottom, not on my feet, but sitting flat on the ground in sweet relief.

The Falcon Center, I can conclude, is not only beautiful and brand new, it also provides for the perfect place to test and challenge yourself. More than that, however, the Falcon Center is staffed and populated by really supportive and knowledgeable people who can take even the most uber-beginner, me, and get her up and down a rock wall with no injury to me or anyone else.

Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.