I am a person who is 100% afraid of heights, full stop. I’m not sure when this phobia developed, because I can remember a time when I wasn’t nearly so afraid, but the fear is real and it is always there. I don’t like Ferris wheels, sky trams, airplanes, none of it. Sometimes I do force myself to come to terms with it (like with flying) but other times I just back out of a situation because of it.

Then I decided I wanted to go rock climbing.

What was I thinking?

Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking about what a cool experience it would be, and that it might just be a way to get over a bit of my fear. It would be a controlled situation with professionals there for guidance, and the worst case scenario was that I’d get there and figure out it wasn’t for me.

I had thought about rock climbing as a someday thing, but never really sought out a place or time in which to do it. Then Winter Adventure Weekend came to town and the opportunity presented itself.

Winter Adventure Weekend is hosted every January at Carter Caves State Resort Park in Kentucky near where I live. They have all sorts of activities to choose from over the course of a long weekend, ranging from caving to kayaking to bird watching. My sister and I had never been and had decided it would be a fun break from the winter blues and thus signed up to participate. We began to browse over the list of activities, trying to figure out what we might like to do together and individually, and then there it was. New to the park and to the weekend of adventuring was the option to learn to rock climb, and so I went for it.

Life is short, right? May as well spend part of it dangling on the side of a rock face with a rope and a harness.

The outfitters who come to Winter Adventure Weekend are wonderful professionals who are there to help you learn, and to make the event go as smoothly as possible. We ended up going on a Friday for this, and it was our very first activity of the long weekend. It required a bit of hiking down into the new area that would be used for climbing, and those who would be going on the wall were issued a harness and a helmet. After figuring out how to put on the gear they went over the basics, such as how to belay and all the essential terms (climbing on!) that a person needs to be aware of. After that it was a matter of who would go first and a show of who had been climbing before and who had not.

Most folks there had at least done an indoor climb, but myself and a few others had never done any sort of climbing outside of childhood scrambling which doesn’t really count. For a while I was content to stand back and watch, and I belayed for a fellow climber, but eventually some of the group moved down to a second climb and there wasn’t nearly as much of an audience. I figured this was my now or never moment.

Sidebar: I have a bad left knee. Sometimes it acts up, sometimes it is fine. In the days leading up to this event I’d been struggling with knee pain, which was unfortunate because my left knee is the knee I tend to put the most weight on or take the first step with. So when it was time to climb I was relying on my right leg to do the brunt of the work.

Needless to say I did not get far, but I made it onto the wall! I managed to do a few footholds and handholds, and while I was never high off the ground I feel like I really did conquer something! It was both easier and harder than I had imagined, for so many reasons. You’re trying to contort your body in knew ways, using the smallest cracks and edges to hold yourself up. While that is hard, it is also so easy to feel so rewarded by these small measures. It was so cool, and so wonderful.

Also it snowed hard that night, and we did not make it back to any more events at Winter Adventure. That part wasn’t so great, because we had already paid, but trying to make the drive back out wasn’t worth the risk and so we counted our losses. I especially felt bad for my sister though, who was looking forward to rappelling!

Rock climbing is something I would certainly love to try again. There’s a great indoor gym not too far out, and I’m planning to visit at least once in the near future. I will never get over my fear of heights, it’s just ingrained deep in my psyche, but I have learned that I can test my own limits when it comes to going for something that I really want to do.

Life List Item: Complete

Learn more about Winter Adventure Weekend here! Also check out the LEF rock climbing gym in Lexington here!

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