See the rope in the banner? That’s a figure eight knot on the right, and a stopper knot on the left. The rope goes down from the figure eight, through my harness and back through the knots. I’m about to go up a 10m cliff face that looks out over the Shoalhaven River in Nowra. The other end of the rope will be somewhere at Ryan’s feet, while he feeds it through the belay device on his harness. He will use the belay to lock the rope if I fall, but otherwise he will slowly feed the rope through it.
Ryan is a constant in my climbing. We climb with other people, and Ryan often goes climbing without me, but when I climb, he’s around somewhere. He encourages me, cheers me on, offers me useless advice and often infuriates me by rolling his eyes. I know he is frustrated when I can’t get a move, and even more so when I stop trying. I may be on the end of my rope, but he’s on the other, keeping me safe.
Last night it was just the two of us at the climbing gym. I was tired and didn’t do a lot, but got a couple of moves that felt impressive. Ryan, well, he warms up on stuff I can’t contemplate. We take turns belaying each other, each getting in a couple of climbs before we switch. I was exhausted, heart thumping at the end of each turn. My fingers stung and my fore-arms were pumped. But after each rest another climb would catch my eye, and up I’d go.
There was nothing very dramatic about last night’s climbing. I get gentle reminders of improvement when an old climb feels a bit easier, a bit more natural. I note my new bravery when I attempt something new. It’s the repetition that’s the key. Tricky moves gradually get stored in my muscle memory, and I can look at a new climb and imagine how I might attempt it. It isn’t just the skills that I’m reinforcing over and over. With each attempt I trust myself to reach higher, stretch further, to worry less about falling. And with each fall I trust Ryan, and the rope, a little bit more.