Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Hard Moment Here and There: A Look Behind The Rock Climbing Scene, Part I of III

It unnerves me when I'm not well-armed with information. I have a need to know and, when I really started getting into rock climbing, I read a few primers and I scoured blogs. I came upon The Chalk Bag (infrequently updated) and Steph Davis' blog in which she typically responds to people who have questions for her. I was left wanting more. I wanted to get behind the rock climbing mystique. What better place to start than with two of my favorite rock climbers in the whole wide world? Here's part one of an interview with Jessica and Patti who were gracious enough to sit down with me after climbing today.

'Drea: How did you get involved with rock climbing?

Jessica: It’s something that I always wanted to try…When I was in college, a lot of my friends would come down to Upper Limits and go climbing and it never worked out; I’d be doing something and I couldn’t go at the same time they were going. Classes got in the way and I would say I’ll do it next year; I’ll do it next year and, finally, when I graduated, I really wanted to get into it and I was tired of waiting and I was like, you know what, I not going to wait for someone else to take me, I’m just going to go. So, I found out about a deal that was going on at the gym. It was a six week course, rentals included; you could climb as much as you wanted in between the classes and then you had a class every week that would teach you how to belay, climbing techniques and, ideally, would have you up to a level where you could do 5.9s which was pretty optimistic. We were doing 5.8s, I think, by the time we got done.

‘Drea: How did mom (Patti) come into the picture?

Jessica: I wanted someone to do it with me.

Patti: I guess I’m the gullible one.

Jessica: I was gonna do it no matter what and, so, I get along well with my mom...

‘Drea: Did you think she was going to participate?

Jessica: No, I didn’t think she was going to do it...

Patti: Really?

Jessica: Well, I thought there was a chance that you might try it but there was no way that I could have predicted that you would get into it and you would still be climbing three years later.

‘Drea: What did you say when she asked you?

Patti: No way. But then she said, Mom, mom, I only have fifteen minutes and there are only two spots left and then they’re going to give the spots away. We have to do it. We have to. Come on mom. I really want you do it with me. Come on, please. I said, “Okay, let me think about it and Jessica said, no, you only have 15 minutes.”

Jessica had signed up to be on a waiting list and a staff member, Aaron, notified Jessica that there were only two spots left and wanted to know if she was in or out.

‘Drea to Patti: Did you feel any pressure with fifteen minutes to decide?

Patti: Yes, yessssss. And then I thought, well, it would be some fun time to spend with Jess... I don’t care what we’re doing as long as we’re doing something together.

‘Drea: So, you said “sign me up.”

Patti: And then I paid for it too.

‘Drea: Such a nice mom.

Jessica: She is…

‘Drea: You paid to be tortured.

Patti: Yes, I did and I paid for her to be tortured too.

Jessica: And we walked in the first day and the first thing we see is someone climbing lead on the overhang and we don’t know what lead is. We don’t know what top rope is. We think it’s all the same and we’re doing what everyone else is doing and the guy falls and he swings through the middle and mom grabs me and goes “Oh my God.” Our class met upstairs where the walls aren’t quite as high and the first day was just talking about it and, the whole time, mom is just looking around.

‘Drea: And you were afraid of heights when you first started to climb?

Patti: Yes, you can feel your stomach in your toes...

Jessica: We stayed after the first time and John was working here and we started climbing and I climbed up once and got to the top and I was shaking and it was really hard to get up. I didn’t know the technique. Not the same muscles that I had been using before. It’s just something that’s really different. I’m gripping the rock…I’m gripping with 110% of my strength.

‘Drea: That was me.

Jessica: It’s normal. That’s what people do. I came down. My arms were shaking. I was like I’m done. I’m good. John came up to me and said “That’s not all you’re doing, right?”...“Well, I guess nottttttttt...”

‘Drea: What all did you learn in class?

Patti: Quiet feet (climbing with bells), all about belaying, belay devices, fireman’s rappel and we learned about using our arms, hanging low, stretching out…

Jessica: Paul was our instructor and he was really good at explaining like what’s going on where. Telling us things like if you have a two finger pocket, you don’t want to actually use your pointer and middle finger; you want to use your middle and ring finger to put in there because, even though it doesn’t feel as strong, those are tendons that go straight back into the arm whereas your pointer finger kind of curves a little bit. So, it’s not as hard on your body and you’re getting more out of it if you hang on like that.… Lots of little things like that: drop knees, gaston...

‘Drea: How long was it (rock climbing) hard?

Patti: It’s always hard. (We all burst out laughing.) That doesn’t change…

Jessica to Patti: Now, what was the point that it became less of something that you were just trying and something that you wanted to do regularly?

Patti: I’m still not sure. I guess when I figured that I’m 49. We started, I think, two weeks before my 49th birthday because then the next fall we went out (doors) for the first time and that was my 50th birthday.

‘Drea: So, it was like a birthday gift that you gave yourself?

Patti: Yeah, and I could do it. There have been people who’ve come in and couldn’t get to the top the first time and I could…and it uses all of your muscles and it’s engaging; it’s not like spending time on an elliptical and you’re going, Oh my God, it’s only been two minutes.

‘Drea: So how long did it take you to not be sore?

Patti: About three months.

Jessica: I don’t remember what it was for me.

Patti: You know the older you are the longer it takes you to recover...

‘Drea: What were you doing before climbing?

Jessica: I was going to the gym. My lower back has bothered me since high school…I carried tenors (five drums). The elliptical really helped with loosening my back up. I did some weight training, swimming. I get bored easily so it was a lot of flipping to different things but never really finding anything fun -- always being active… This is the first time that I found something physical that I looked forward to doing because, mom’s right, it is really mentally engaging. If you’re figuring out the puzzle all the time, you’re always constantly gauging can I do this? Can I not? It keeps you on your toes…

Patti: I always walked and kept active that way and I would do tapes but just before that I had started on the elliptical and I had done that for, I don’t know how many months, and I got plantar fasciitis and, so there goes walking, there goes anything. So, for awhile there, I wasn’t doing anything and it slowly came back to where I could do some stuff and I would periodically do a tape but that was about it...

Part II of Interview with Jessica and Patti

Part III of Interview with Jessica and Patti


  1. What a fun dialogue. They seem so down to earth - glad you had that opportunity! You amaze me with your climbing!!

  2. What a great interview. I think it's great that you initiated a conversation with them - I learned a lot about climbing!

  3. Great interview and I love to hear women over 40 and 50 still kickin' bootie and having a great time!

    In answer to your question about how long it took us to ride 75 miles yesterday. I think actual riding time was under 5 hours. Mostly keeping to a 16-18 mph pace. But add in time for Rest stops,Lunch, flat tires along the way, me getting a flat and almost biffing it in front of an oncoming truck, etc... and I think we were out there for about 7 hours.

    Feeling VERY tired today... :)

  4. @Nicole, RD,

    I'm glad that I amaze at least one person in the world. :)

    @Diane Fit to the Finish,

    Glad that you liked the interview and that it was informative...


    I'm with you on women who rock steady. :)

    Okay, I have to admit that I had to look up biffing it. I'm so glad that you didn't!

    You really impress me with your bicycling.

    And, like you, I love a *good* tired.

    * * *

    Ladies, on a final note, thanks a lot for taking a look; I know it was lengthy...

  5. I liked that very much. Thanks for sharing it with me Drea ;) - Anita A

  6. Anita,

    Glad you liked it... :)