Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Memories IX: A Step over the Void

Skyline Traverse is a Seneca Rocks classic, described in the old guidebook as "one of the finest routes of its grade".  The author then continues, however, "The start of the second pitch has filled the hearts of many beginning climbers with fear".  When you arrive there, it is not hard to see why, especially if (as the "beginning climber") you are the second person on the rope.

You climb most of the first pitch on big holds which deposit you on a wide horn of rock forming a comfortable ledge.  A nice place to belay from but where does the route go now?  Your leader slots in a piece of gear - probably a #1 Camalot - behind a convenient horn high up to your left, and then proceeds to traverse delicately leftwards about six feet.  From there, he gets established in a typical Seneca corner system and moves up quickly until he is out of sight.  You are left alone on the ledge, waiting for the "On belay" call, and knowing that when it comes the first thing you will have to do is to remove that reassuring Camalot and make the leftwards traverse for yourself - trusting that the rope above you, running to your leader out of sight at the top of pitch 2, will protect you if you slip.

Because the step off the belay is a deliberate choice to put yourself in a place that feels really dangerous. Make that step and there are 120 feet of air below the heels of your climbing shoes, an eye-popping level of exposure for a novice climber to accept all in one gulp. You might hesitate for a while; you might ask yourself if your leader really can be trusted to protect you; you might even need a little encouragement from the next party behind.  But eventually, like Miriam when I first took her up this way, you will make the move, find the secure stance, and whoop for joy.

It can take everything a young climber has, to make that step of trust.  Just as it can take everything a young person has, to say to their parents "Mom, I'm gay"; "Dad, I'm transgender". What a void of potentially deadly misunderstanding they must bravely step out over!  And, parents, in this picture I see us as the ones holding the rope - communication is difficult but we are still responsible for our loved one's safety.  Love, the first commandment, is the belay skill we need here; the skill to hold our loved ones close and keep them safe.  But courage is their contribution; to follow the way marked out for them can feel like taking a step over the void.

Image from Pixabay.  Public Domain.

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