Sunday, May. 26, 2019 @ 10:49 pm
The Smoke Bluffs
The clinking of hardware. A slab of granite. Columbines, coloured primary red and yellow, cling to the base of the rock. Ferns and salmonberries. The roar from the highway below. The rope gripped tightly between my two hands below my right hip.
I watch Russell climb up the rock, and I pull up the slack as he progresses. I watch the muscles in his calves stretch out taught and ropey. The toe of his shoe perched on the smallest of ledges, barely a quarter-inch wide. He reaches the top, and I cinch up the slack tight, and he leans back on the rope. I lower him to the base of the cliff as he pushes off in series of practiced arcs.
“How was that?” I ask, as he is untying himself from the rope and I am unscrewing the carabiner and belay device from my harness.
I climb for the first time in over a decade. Running my hands over the granite searching for a hand hold. Pressing the soft rubber of my slipper-like climbing shoes into the bluff. Pushing myself and breathing through the adrenaline that pulses through my body.
I find myself stuck on a slab with nowhere to go. I search and search and search for something, a better hand hold, a better place for my left toe. I am about to give up, when I decide to test my shoes. I press my toe onto a tiny piece of quartz, a crumb of rock, and I press my hands onto the flat rock and imagine that my palms have suction. Grit, brute force, a small amount of grace, I edge my way up across the unblemished expanse of slab.
Inch my inch, my forearms screaming at me, my legs shaking, I gain a foot of elevation, and then my hand finds the most gloriously thick and triangular hand hold. I hold onto that beast of a hold with two hands and get my legs up near my hips and with that I’m over the crux of the climb. Work a ledge to the right, then a second ledge to the left, then I’m at the top anchor. I turn and survey the view: mountains, inlet, lumber yards. I look across the slab and see all of the other climbers working their routes.
Russell belays me to the damp ground.
“I’m impressed,” he says. “I didn’t think you’d be able to do the slab on your first climb in ten years, with no gym practice.”
We climb all day, him and me and his friend Holly. Sitting at the base of the cliff on a foam pad, kneading my feet. My shoes, three sizes too small, to give me better feel of the rock. Like pointe shoes. Ballet. Rock climbing. Strength and grace.
We go for tacos and beer afterwards, our hands black with rock dust. I have grime smeared across my yellow tank top, chalk stains on the brim of my navy trucker cap. A scrape on my left hand, from when I slid it into a crack and made a fist to create a hold, bleeds slowly.
He drops me off in front of my apartment. I haul my gear from his trunk, pile it on the grass. We hug, sweaty and smelling of minerals and forest.
“What are you doing next weekend?” he asks.
“Oh nothing specific yet.”
“Do you want to meet me over on Newcastle Island for a night of camping?”
“Yes, of course. I’d love to.”