Rock Climbing and Fluffy Clouds

This is something that happened to me on a rock-climbing trip in France.

In case you are not familiar with rock climbing as distinct from any other kind of climbing, here is a quick primer.

Rock climbing mean climbing on vertical or near-vertical rock. Each section of a climb is called a pitch, and its length is dictated by the length of the rope the climber is carrying, and the nearness of somewhere to rest.

Multi-pitch climbs can be many hundreds of feet from bottom to top, but many single pitch climbs are 30 metres or less.

If a rock climber gets into trouble, then more often than not he or she can simply down-climb to safety. Mountain climbing can involve technical climbing, but a lot of it is more of an arduous slog on rough terrain, working against altitude. If a mountain climber gets into trouble, it’s often a long way from home and safety.

Ice climbing is a whole other world. 

With that primer on rock climbing, here’s the story.

My girlfriend and I were climbing in France, and I would normally climb free, bolting the rope in at intervals as I climbed. Many routes in France are bolted, meaning that the umbrella organisation for climbers has sunk bolts into the rock face every four metres or so, and the climber can snap the rope into those bolts with a quickdraw as they climb.

On that day I decided not to attempt a particular climb without being roped in from the top. That was because very first foothold was a tiny nubbin of rock, smaller than the tip of my little finger.

At the foot of the climb small boulders were littered all ever the ground.

That nubbin of rock was only a metre or two off the ground, so if I slipped off that I could just see me falling on the edge of a boulder and twisting my ankle.

So I decided to climb an easier bolted route about thirty metres to the side of this particular hard route. The idea was that at the top of the easier route I would shimmy across and clip in at the top of the harder route. Then I would let myself down on the rope and then climb that route in safety because I would roped in from the top of the route.

When I got to the top of the easier route and shimmied across, I made a mistake. I unclipped in the wrong direction. I should have first reversed and down-climbed and then unclipped starting at the bottom until I had worked my way up. But I didn’t.

I started unclipping from the top and that meant that when I was at the last clip I was on the end of a thirty-foot length of rope. I could feel the tension in the rope.

When I unclipped the last clip I would swing like pendulum. And I did.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the swing was huge and fast. I was swinging, high on adrenalin.

After that I don’t recall anything of the harder route except that very first foothold on the nubbin of rock. It was so easy and I just climbed so fast and so easily.

The walk back through the trees and down to the campsite was breezy and easy. I was laughing and smiling and just happy and interested in everything.

Back at the campsite I showered and dived off the edge of the pool and started swimming. The adrenalin was still pumping and my arms and legs felt no resistance in the water. I could see fluffy clouds reflected in the water and I was swimming through and on them.

It was truly like swimming absolutely effortlessly through fluffy clouds.