Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Love and Rock Climbing

As published on The Huffington Post

Benjamin Rubenstein about to climb Bailey's Overhang at Boulder Canyon, ColoradoMy heart is racing. "How excited and scared are you?" I say.

"On a 10-point scale... 7 and 3. I'm more scared of boredom for when I'm down here all alone. How about you?" Pumba says.

"100 and 100."

Our lead-climbing instructor set the first pitch: "Bailey's Overhang" on Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon. Pumba and I are waiting to climb while the second of our four-person team ascends. Pumba will climb last and clean the cams from the route.

Pumba is named after the sweet warthog who is Simba's guardian in The Lion King. I don't know her given name because we only use nicknames in rock-climbing. My nickname is Hippy because my left hip bone was surgically removed when I was a teenager. This is the last of our five-day rock-climbing trip composed of about 15 strangers.

Benjamin Rubenstein climbing Bailey's Overhang at Boulder Canyon in ColoradoIn between shouts of encouragement to S'mores working her way up, Pumba shares how rock-climbing gave her peace when nothing else worked. I share how it's now the only sport I can succeed at after a childhood saturated with athletics, then a bone saturated with bad cells. Our necks are tiring from staring up at the rock, so we move further from the wall and into the warmth of the early sun. We've completed the most challenging routes in this order, Pumba after me, and the climbing instructors teamed us together on this "graduation day" because of that.

We see a different team from our trip on an adjacent climbing route, and wave up to them. "I hope everyone else takes pictures so we can see their routes," I say.
View from ledge, Bailey's Overhang at Boulder Canyon in Colorado
Pumba's face brightens as she reaches into her bag for her camera. "I totally forgot I'm the photog!" she says.

I love teasing her for forgetting her designated duty, though she has taken plenty of pictures of me climbing towards the sky. Pumba told me that she smiled up to the sky through the window the time she fell ill, her body nonresponsive and her mind stuck in time. "I could have kept that image forever," Pumba said.

S'mores reaches the top so I switch my left sneaker, which has a 2.25-inch lift because my femur migrated up without a bone to stop it, with my much leaner climbing shoe. I shout the proper "belay" and "climbing" commands, then look back towards Pumba and the gigantic Rocky Mountains behind her that make me both so small and grand. Keep reading, here