On June 9, 2021

Mastering composure on the crag

By Merisa Sherman 

I have to stop and take a few deep breaths to bring my breathing under control. I can feel my heart pounding as I close my eyes. There is no choice but to focus, no option but to regain control of my mind. My left leg is shaking violently, even as I ask it to hold my body steady. I press my hips forward against the rock, hoping that the coolness will calm me down. But I can feel the wind brushing against my back, exposed to the elements as I dangle from a rope on the side of a mountain.
Today, we are rock climbing.

By Sam Sherrill
Author Merisa Sherman reaches for more chalk as she climbed Deer Leap in 2008.

The thrill of trusting my entire being to the person attached to the other end of the rope is not my favorite. If I open my eyes just a bit, I can peek down and see the BF sitting there, working the belay, about 40 feet below me. He is sitting on a rock, calmly looking upward at me paused in the middle of my ascent. I try not to notice all the jagged rocks that surround him, at the base of the crag, where I would find myself if any of our rope system should fail.
But I cannot let my self think about that right now. I am already on belay and at the crux of the climb, which for me is always the moment when I ascend above the tree line. Suddenly exposed, the wind is whipping over the pass and I can feel it. I can hear the trees rustling beneath me but I remind myself that this is just fear. There is nothing different about climbing above or below the trees, except the exposure, the height, the danger … and the view!
My left middle finger has an awesome grip. I’m hanging from the tiniest ledge but my fingertip feels pretty locked in. With my weight balanced between both feet, I let out a big exhale and turn my head to look over my right shoulder. It’s glorious. Killington and Pico sprawl out before me, laid at my feet like a plush blanket of green.
The cars coming up the pass look like little collectibles, and I hear someone honk in acknowledgment of having seen me. I chuckle, thinking about how many times we’ve gazed up at Deer Leap looking for climbers to honk at. And now, some one was honking at me. It seemed kind of silly, but it was just what I needed. The sun was going to be setting soon and I wanted to watch that from a little less stressful location.
I looked down at my harness, just looking to check my figure 8 for like the 20th time since I tied in and almost threw up. Again. I have to not look down while climbing. Another deep breath and I am finally ready. My “Elvis leg’ has stopped shaking and I can see the problem ahead. I dip my right hand behind my back and into my chalk bag while I study the problem ahead, smiling as the solution comes into view. One section at a time — and this one coming up is my favorite!
The Center Crack! Jamming my hand vertically in the crack, I work to fill up the space and pull outward to balance as I focus on keeping three points of contact with the rock at all times.
Right hand. Left foot. Right foot. Left hand. Right foot. Left foot. Right hand. I move slowly, allowing the rock to set the rhythm while I focus on just maintaining good traction and pressing my weight into my heels. My legs are strong, I just need to rely on them.
“Find a finger hold, hips into the rock, trust my legs,” I keep telling myself.
Over and over again, each movement feeling the same yet meticulously different than the one before. I’m Spider-Man, but with a rope and a harness. And without the sticky fingers. So I dip my hand into my chalk bag again, hoping that my sweat won’t be the reason for me slipping off the rock. I can see the final bolts up ahead, the bolts set by a stranger that I am trusting to catch me if I fall … But I can’t think about that. I’m already here. There is only this last tricky smear section to do before the glorious rappel down. I’ve got this!
As I lean back to weight the harness in preparation for the descent, I have the time to take a good look at how beautiful our mountains are. And how much adventure is hidden in those mountains. Who would have thought I could paddle in the morning and then meet up with friends after work for a few hours at the crag? Killington is like summer camp for grownups. I wonder what we’re doing tomorrow…

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