At 10:30 am, we arrived at the base of the rock wall known as Write-Off Rock. The heat had already began to melt everyone in the sun exposed climbing area. I immediately dropped the rope bag on the ground of a 35 foot 5.9 route named Knife In The Toaster and asked my 11 year old son if he would like to lead the route. For those that don’t climb, I’m asking him if he would like to climb a route a degree more difficult than his last lead climb and as he climbs, he will clip the carabiners along the way to protect himself from falling too far should he slip. He was excited for the challenge and quickly climbed into his harness, counted out his quick draws, attached them to his harness and tied into the rope.
Before he took off, I had him tell me step by step what he will do when he approaches the anchors at the top of the route. “Mom, I’m going to place a locking draw on the top bolt, lock it and place my rope in the hanging locker. Then I will place the second locking draw on the next bolt and do the same thing. I’ll make sure all 4 carabiners are locked and then I will say “lower” so that you can lower me down.”
He took off on the climb and within 15 feet was met with the crux of the climb. He was getting frustrated as he felt around the rock and couldn’t seem to find anything to grip. Everything suddenly felt so slick and smooth. For about two minutes, I could see the frustration and panic in his face as he was starting to feel defeated. He lowered his head in disappointment and didn’t want to quit so early in the climb. Five minutes went by, he decided to grab a small little two finger piece of rock and lunged upward, found a new foothold and was instantly charged up again. He looked down at me with relief and yelled “sorry mom for yelling at you earlier.” He then continued up the route, climbing, clipping in more protection and moving upward. Finally he was positioned about three feet from the top anchors. With a minimal hand grip and downward sloping footholds, he looked up at his anchors determining what his next move is going to be. He was tired after such a long route and he knew if he fell from his current spot it will be a good 12 foot fall before he was caught, being that he is 6 feet above his last piece of protection. The direct sun and 80 degree temperature was making him feel worse. Instead of grabbing his locking quickdraw (as discussed before the climb), he grabs his personal anchor and tries to reach up to clip it in an off balance move. He misses the chain links. This was his ticket to freedom and relaxation. He repositions and makes another attempt and misses. This continued at least a dozen times with no success. I could tell from the look on his face that he was miserable and again defeated. He lowered his head and began to silently cry. I understand his disposition. I know the feeling of using everything you’ve got just to get to the top of a route and not have enough mental energy or strength to complete the route and yet knowing that you have to find it somewhere because the alternative is not pleasant. For thirty long minutes, he went from periods of resting, reaching and failing and the full gamut of emotions that came with.
As a mom, holding on to the other end of the rope, which will only catch him after he makes the 12 foot fall (if he were to fall), I am not worried, don’t feel sorry for his circumstances, cannot bail him out. I am right where I need to be. This is real life and the challenges that come with. It is having to stay up all night to cram for two exams, going to baseball practice even when tired because you committed to joining the team, standing up for a kid being picked on, or confessing something big to your parents knowing you will disappoint them. We want our kids to succeed and have the courage to push themselves beyond what they think they are comfortable with and capable of. We want them to learn to use their mental toughness and the grit it takes to earn those successes. As my son sits, 33 feet above me, he needs to muster up the courage within himself to prevail and the strength to get back up should he fail. He has to overcome his emotions, uncomfortableness and think with enough clarity to find his way through his situation. As parents, we have equipped him with the tools to succeed and even how to rebound, but for him to grow he must put these tools to use himself. I cannot set my end of the rope down, climb the route and give him a boost to the anchor, just as I can’t take those exams or go to baseball practice.
Parenting, learning to release your grip and letting your kid experience success and failure is such a nail biting experience. In the end, it came down to pure courage and mental strength to push beyond his comfort zone, climb up a few more inches and finally clip that carabiner to the bolt. After I heard the metal click and the screwing in of the lock, I watch him hang there for a minute with tired satisfaction. His body was so worn down that he just hung from the anchor with arms dangling below. After a few minutes, he set up his locking quickdraws, ran the rope through the carabiners as he had talked about. I acknowledged that I could see the rope going from his harness, through the carabiners and back down to me and gave him the go ahead to unclip his personal anchor so that I could lower him back to the ground.
These moments stay with kids. My son will see a challenge and know what it feels like. He will remember feeling like he couldn’t climb that wall but then gave it just a little more when he thought he had nothing left to give. As he becomes a teenager and a young adult, life experiences will challenge him with the same walls to climb, with pieces of protection along the way and two parents in the background watching intently.