Ice Climbing….Becasue Why The Hell Not?

This is how you hammock.

I just got back from an ice climbing trip in New Hampshire guided by Northeast Mountaineering. Yea, that’s right. Ice. Climbing. Why? Because I figure, if you’re going to try something new you may as well do it big. This is what happens as you get older—if you’re doing this living thing right—a drive to adventure takes over and you find yourself surfing the Internet late at night for special offers from guide companies because your best friend decides she wants to take up rock climbing as her 2015 New Year hobby. When I stumbled across the ice climbing trip glowing in blue light back from my computer monitor it was like a beacon of shiny adventure glittering through the dark of my bedroom calling me to climb and I about dropped the handful of popcorn I was holding—Night Eater since 1982, we all have our quirks. I messaged the link to my best friend with the subject line: We’re doing this. Of course, she was giddy over the idea and I booked the trip the next day. A few weeks later, I brought the trip up to my other girlfriend (who coincidentally has also decided she is a rock climber this year) and she was all in. I may have waited awhile to tell her that we were also staying at the co-ed bunkhouse the guide company offers at their headquarters…maybe just a little longer than that to tell her that the bunkhouse does not have showers… and even longer still to tell her the nearest ones are coin operated fifteen miles up the road—you know…like a car wash. She’s the friend you take overnight camping and she brings two suitcases full of what amounts to the whole back section of REI and wears pretty matching floral pajamas and slippers around the campsite. Three single mommies ice climbing in New Hampshire…this is how you live it—this life thing.

I have never rock climbed. I’ve spent a significant amount of time hiking over rocks, biking over rocks, hiking my bike over rocks…but the roped-in-belay-on kind I have no experience with. I find that when one is hell bent on pushing through one’s comfort zone to try activities that involve phobias like fear of heights while hanging from frozen waterfalls on a rope, it’s best not to think about it until you’re in it. This doesn’t work for everyone, it’s just how I prefer it. I was advised by some that maybe I should get in a basic rock climbing lesson before I headed to the ice. For some reason the idea of actually being prepared for what I was about to put myself through took the fun out of it for me. In hindsight it may have been helpful to have a little groundwork laid learning climbing skills, but there is something really magical embedded in the experience of “your first time”. I was going to have this first-time experience with two of my favorite people, one of which I’ve walked through almost every major life event a woman could go through. Many, many good times…even more trying times. This ice climbing trip meant something to us, a metaphor we didn’t know the depth of until we were hanging off the ice belaying each other.

Ice Climbing in New Hampshire
The Yo-Yo Mind Fuck on Day 1

There is, from what I can tell, one fundamental principle in traditional partnered climbing—trust. Trust the rope, trust your belay, trust you are NOT going to fall. All is easier said than done. You can know this logically when you clip onto that rope and start the climb, but to convince your central nervous system of it is an internal battle. There is nothing normal about climbing a chunk of ice…it is weird. Everything about it is. Why, you ask yourself, am I here?! Every movement makes no sense in your brain because your body is anticipating the consequences of not having a firm toe into the ice or a loosely anchored axe from a weak over the arm swing into a divot in the ice above your head. It’s exhausting and exhilarating. And then there’s the rope…do you know how much play those ropes have in them? It’s not like you’re roped in and you feel like you are. When you fall you yo-yo…and that really messes with your head.

Day two of climbing was the day that I profoundly understood what my friends and I were doing in New Hampshire climbing ice together. There are certain moments in life when (hopefully) the lesson is so obvious that it would take emotional disconnect of extreme dysfunction not to get it. In which case, maybe therapy is a good route for you and a little gentler on the nerves. I was feeling pretty good about the climb, getting further than I had gotten before. Getting higher by doing what I do best….not over thinking it and utilizing a healthy dose of disassociation from my body. Focusing on the movement to be made in the moment (Oprah used to talk about that, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t climb ice to have that ah-ha moment…which makes me feel pretty bad ass about my emotional development). Then, it happened…I looked around and my central nervous system screamed, “Gurl…you is HIGH and this is ICE and this is NOT NORMAL!” At which point I heard myself from somewhere disassociated yell to my best friend who was belaying me,”Susan…hold me tighter!”. Susan yelled back at me, “You are NOT going to fall…I will NOT LET YOU FALL! Relax!”. Fear is a funny thing. It’s a Pandora’s Box. Once you break the seal you can’t reseal it, you just have to ride the wave.

Ice Climbing in New Hampshire
No One’s Got Your Back Like I Do
I heard her. Logically I heard her…but it was hard to shake the fear so I went back into my head to collect myself. I must have been in there for longer than I realized because all of a sudden I heard the click click click of our guide’s axes coming up behind me. I don’t remember all of what he said to me, but I do remember him telling me to trust the rope. Trust. And there it was, my lesson. Trust your equipment, and the friends you keep close in your “circle of trust”—you are not doing any of this alone—and trust yourself. You put yourself here and you can do this. So I did, and when I was done going up it was time to go back down…dig in and ride the wave back down woman! Getting the courage to stand up and lean back in that harness to scale back down that chunk of ice took every coping skill I’ve ever collected during my forty years on this planet. Thank God for my therapist dad’s voice in my head—”Rachel, you are a human made up of ever changing molecules on a rock suspended in space spinning in circles around a burning star…and it’s weird. Just deal with it.” So, I did and when I got down I felt really good about myself.
I thought I was done, but my guide…my Yoda…told me I wasn’t done. Excuse me? I sure as shit am, I screamed at him from inside in my brain. “You’re not done. You are going to climb back up and you are going to lay back and hang in your harness” he said. “How high?” I asked. “High enough to build trust in the rope”, he said. Fuck. Okay. When Yoda says hang, you hang. And, he was right to make me do that because he could see that I needed more time on that ice for the lesson to really sink in.
I think it is safe to say that my friends took away the same lesson as I did from the ice. I can’t speak for them, but we all gained some inner freedom during that trip. We all grew. We were all brave. We became a little better versions of ourselves. It wasn’t all heavy in life lesson though. We drank beer from our Camelbaks, we laughed like we were in high school, we ate to our heart’s content, we played like little kids in the snow. We met some amazing fellow Wanderlust Wanderers. We won. We won because we showed up to play…the lessons were just icing on the cake.
New Hampshire, ice climbing, rock climbing
Northeast Mountaineering
ice climbing
Ice Climbing at Champney Falls in New Hampshire
Money shot!
ice climbing
Ice Climbing Changes People’s Lives/The Bunkhouse
“I did it for the selfie!”
Huge thank you to our guides Corey, Brett (Yoda), and Mike at Northeast Mountaineering for taking such good care of us, and for all the laughter and kindness!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s