Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

To climb or not to climb

I HAVEN’T WRITTEN about this before, but I love to climb. I really do – I love to climb… but I’m definitely not a climber! I love the gymnastic exercise of climbing – the simple movement of it, the problem solving, the succeeding in physical challenges that often at first seem all but impossible – and I love the beauty and feel of rock when studied and fondled up close… but I’ve never been a big fan of being high off the ground (which is an understatement). This intense dislike of exposure clearly isn’t conclusive to much of what climbing is! It’s why I don’t consider myself a climber.

There’s a longish and easy(ish) climb up at 13,000 feet on Mount Blue Sky that I’d love to do as part of my mission this year to fully getting to know the big hill. After all, how can I ever claim to know the mountain if I never place hands and feet onto its rockiest parts? To prepare for this climb, a climbing friend, Mike, took me up Clear Creek Canyon west of Golden last night to try a four-pitch 5.10a climb that he’d picked out. I’ve only done one multi-pitch climb before – a 5.7 three-pitch climb in Eldorado Canyon, or Eldo – and, to be honest, I hadn’t enjoyed it. It was simply too high off the deck. And I hated with a passion the rappel at the end. But I was willing to try again, and so up Clear Creek Canyon we scuttled.

At first, all went well… at least, it went well until I was halfway up the very first pitch, struggling on greasy rock, feeling utterly intimidated by the small overhangs that I had to negotiate and the far larger overhangs that awaited on pitches three and four hundreds of feet above. I even fell, my feet skittering off. By the time I reached my friend’s stance I was utterly drenched in sweat, and I’d made up my mind about what came next. And it wasn’t pitch two. Mike, great friend that he is, and extremely competent and rational climber that he is, completely understood, didn’t question my reaction, and was happy to bail.

But instead of quitting completely we walked on to a smaller baby crag, only fifty-feet high at its highest, and the climbing on that was far more enjoyable – more delicate and gymnastic rather than thuggish and committing – and I even succeeded on my first try on a balancey 5.10c/d slab climb, which got me rethinking my earlier retreat…

It’s a tricky one. In climbing, as in life, it pays to know oneself. And, at some level, to accept one’s limitations. Perhaps multi-pitch climbs, even easy ones, just aren’t my thing. And perhaps I’m not willing to put enough time into climbing on real rock to grow comfortable with it, partly because when climbing I’ll probably always be thinking: “I’d rather be backpacking!” And yet the satisfaction I found from succeeding on yesterday’s final climb remains thought-provoking.

I guess I’m not quite ready to give up on the Mount Blue Sky climb just yet…

Mission Wall Clear Creek Canyon photo Andrew Terrill
The great dark bulge of the Mission Wall along Clear Creek Canyon. An ominous and intimidating face.
Tyrolean Traverse Clear Creek Canyon July 18 2023
Reaching the wall involved a ‘Tyrolean traverse’ across Clear Creek. A fun, safe, and adventurous way to reach a crag!
 Tyrolean Traverse clear creek canyon  July 18 2023
All smiles… before the retreat.
 Mission Wall Route Clear Creeek Canyon photo Andrew Terrill
The white line marks the four-pitch route. Note the steeper overhung sections up high! By technical climbing grade, the climb is ‘only’ rated 5.10a, a grade that should be well within my abilities (I climb a lot on artificial walls), but the ‘psychological grade’ for someone who hasn’t actually climbed outside since pre-Covid times proved to be significantly higher! The circle marks the end of pitch one – as high as I was wiling to go. Does this count as failure, or a smart decision? Or both?
On Ride The Snake July 18 2023
On the first pitch, after battling past the steeper, greasier, slightly overhung first section (hidden by the bulge). I was smiling for the camera, but by this point I’d made up my mind!
Mission Wall Clear Creeek Canyon mike dano rapping down photo Andrew Terrill
Mike rapping back down. There was another pair on the route above us – you can spot the second above, perched beneath the roof, with the leader’s rope trailing upward. Intimidating, no?

So, will I be back for more? Try again? Time will tell…

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