I have a hate-love relationship with climbing. I hate it when I’m doing it and love it when it’s over. My experience with Wellington climbing had been somewhat distressing: my lack of strength, deteriorating technique and NZ’s higher expectations about competence with any activity means that I could only do the easiest one or two climbs in the climbing gyms here (climbing wall). Which on the whole was pretty dispiriting. However I had already signed up to do a climbing course before I realised this and it was too late to back out. The course involves six sessions at the climbing gym learning bouldering technique, belaying and abseiling, a day of bouldering out at Baring Head, and two weekends away.

The bouldering had distressed me to the point of no return: I could not understand how everyone was brave enough to ascend rock, with a high likelihood of falling off, without ropes. I was stuck between my fear of not being able to finish the climb and my fear of having to jump off. So that was not a pleasant experience.

So it was with some hesitation that I packed my bags to travel north up to Kinloch, on the edge of Lake Taupo.

This time we would be on higher rock faces but with the reassurance of a top rope so no prospect of falling more than a few feet at a time before the rope picked you up again. 

We arrived late on Friday (a five hour drive after work) and went straight to bed, and had a fairly leisurely start to get to the rock on Saturday. It was just a 15 minute walk from the bachs (holiday houses) to the crag. The instructors had arrived early to set up the ropes so there was little faffing about (to my disappointment). After a bit of a reminder about safety and technique, we paired up with instructors and got going. In the NZ/Aus system, climbing grades go from 13-35, with experienced climbers climbing at about 22ish maybe. In the gym I was climbing 15s (though not always successfully) with the occasional unexpected bonus 16 (maybe with a little cheating). My first climb was fairly unsuccessful, ending in me demanding to be returned to the ground after about two or three metres. My second was a little better, but when I decided to come down my instructor wouldn’t let me! Disaster. I discovered that taking breaks and sitting back on the rope did help to reassess the situation and try to look for alternative ways to get up. By lunch I was feeling more confident, having managed three different routes including a 16 that went up a corner/crevice and involved bridging part of the way (feel on different faces across the corner). But after lunch I inadvertently tried a much harder route and got stuck half way, with panic setting in and causing me to curse myself for having the audacity to join a course when I was so obviously atrocious at every aspect of this. At 4pm someone at the top of a climb spotted that there was a bucket load of rain coming in from the lake, so to my delight we packed up the equipment quick sharp and just in time. We retreated to the bachs and enjoyed a great Mexican dinner cooked by one of the tutors.

On Sunday, to my disappointment, it did not rain. I decided I needed a new strategy if I was going to survive a further day of this torture. Having reflected on yesterday’s session, I decided that I was facing a psychological battle rather than a physical one. And I thought back to yesterday and realised that while others were trying harder routes than me, they were not all powering up, and lots of people were taking heaps of time to get there, with lots of rests on the rope in between. So I decided that instead of panicking and beating myself up when I couldn’t do a move, I would sing Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay in my head, calm down, and find another way to move my feet to enable me to get up the rock.

And… it worked! I only did three climbs on Sunday but I did them much better than the previous day, both in terms of my levels of panic and my climbing technique. 

So I left feeling more confident and like I had really achieved something. I commend what shall now be called the Otis Redding Technique (ORT), which I will use again. 

Next up on the climbing course is lead climbing. Gah. Panic.


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