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Vertical challenge

Tom Boyd

Thoughts and ideas were scrolling through my head like graffiti murals painted on the sides of box cars, passing through my brain like billboards on the side of a high-speed train.But 20 feet down below me David Roetzel was manning the belay line, asking me to slow down, take my time, and keep my thoughts focused on my left foot. “I’m climbing,” I thought, “and climbing is about trust.” With this in mind I looked at a small, bulbous piece of pink granite jutting out about a quarter inch from the face of the 50-foot rock wall and moved my left toe into position. With Roetzel cheering me on, I jammed all my weight onto my left big toe and made the next move.I’ve had to trust a lot of things in my life, but never have I entrusted the well-being of my entire body to my big toe.I laughed to myself (almost losing my grip) and was suddenly overtaken by a kind of euphoria. Climbing this rock wall helped me reach a kind of mental and physical harmony. I’d heard rock climbers speak of this mental state before with a kind of reverential tone. Even though I knew I was perfectly safe with a top-rope and Roetzel on the belay line, there was an instinctual, primal fear nagging at my innards while I made my way up the face of the rock, pushing my entire body weight onto miniscule lips and ledges. Overcoming that fear and learning to operate my body in a new way was exhilarating, and I instantly learned first-hand why so many people fall in love with the sport of climbing.OK, so the 5.9 pitch I was climbing would be a cakewalk to all but the most beginner climbers. And any amount of agitation was cooled by the fact that I was with Roetzel, a guide wit 10 years of guiding experience and eight years teaching with Vail Rock and Ice Guides, the valley’s oldest and most experienced year-round climbing guide service. But that’s the beauty of a guiding service: rather than head out and buy a harness, rope, carabiners and a bunch of other expensive climbing items, I simply gave Roetzel a call and he provided me with all the gear I needed. Then he took me to the pitch that was right for my ability level, and he helped me learn basic techniques in a safe but challenging environment.”Small moves, small moves man,” he said as I made my way to the top. Then I yelled, “Take!” and he said, “Gotcha!” and then I sat back like I was in grandma’s old rocking chair and was lowered down the face of the cliff.And it was then that I realized that something happens when you’re trusting your body to the person on the other end of the rope.”Teamwork is a huge part of it,” Roetzel explained when I safely reached the deck. “We see groups from corporations, businessmen, who come out here and learn to trust each other and learn to trust themselves, too.”Roetzel’s company has clinics for every kind of climber, from timid first-timers to more experienced climbers who want to learn more about belaying, anchoring, or improving their personal fitness.”You don’t have to be able to do pull-ups to be able to do this sport,” he said. “This isn’t a fast-forward sport. It’s not gravity fed, and you have time to think. In fact, thinking is probably the most important part of it.”By the end of the day it seemed to me that a new world had opened up because I was no longer limited to the horizontal world. A series of new grips and tricks gave me entrance top the vertical world: the side-pull, the finger jam, layback, crimping, and the list goes on.”Some people say you can always go out and learn it with your buddies,” Roetzel said, “but the fact is that with a guide you’re going to learn to do it right, and you’re not going to form bad habits.”Guiding rock climbing is performed under a special-use permit administered by the Holy Cross Ranger District. Expect to spend about $95 per person per day with Vail Rock and Ice Guides, or about $190 for one-on-one instruction. Group discounts are always available and other deals are available through June, and Roetzel says the best way to schedule a clinic is to call the company at (970) 471-1173.What to bring:Things can get pretty hot up against a rock wall in the Colorado sunshine and climbing requires some acrobatic moves. To make sure you’re prepared, bring these items:SunblockSneakersSocksNon-restrictive pants (tights or shorts)Light clothingBug sprayLight raincoatEnergy barsWaterVail Rock and Ice Guides also suggests eating a good breakfast at least an hour before climbing to keep energy levels up.Rating the climbsClimbing pitches are rated from 5.0 to 5.15A. Climbs get more difficult as the numbers go higher, and after 5.10 climbs also have an alphabet ranking from A to D. For example, a 5.10D climb will be more difficult than a 5.10A climb. Beginners usually start at around 5.5 or 5.6, and work their way up from there.


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