Rockclimbing with Ron Kauk

Regular readers of this journal have probably learned that I associate the concept of rock climbing with words like “fear,” “death stuff,” “utter terror,” and “ultimate horror.” In my backcountry excursions, I have always made sure to adhere to my maxim of “my feet must not ‘dangle’ at any time” and have hiked miles out of my way to avoid scampering across sheer cliffs.

During a cross-country hike last summer, I attempted a descent down a cliff that went way beyond my comfort level. After climbing White Mountain, I had walked southwest along the Sierra Crest, hoping to find a place to descend to the east near Finger Lake. If I couldn’t locate a suitable route, I knew I could hike down on the western side, near Skelton Lakes, although it would make my hike back to my car considerably longer. At the end of the ridge, I peered down the cliff and saw an accessible route down. About halfway down, however, I came to a point where the decent required some class four climbing. Although a seasoned climber probably wouldn’t have blinked, I was paralyzed with fear.

Given my fear of heights, no one was more surprised than me when I accepted a generous offer by legendary climber Ron Kauk to give rock climbing a try. I’ve been working with Ron on developing programs for our association and as a result he’ll be giving a talk at our upcoming Spring Forum on March 27th and leading a class for our Outdoor Adventures on April 17th. When I confessed to my timidness when faced with “exposure,” Ron said he could help. How could a turn down a lesson from a world-class climber?

Last week, Ron gave me my first lesson on an outdoor climbing wall. Ron is a gentle soul and he approaches rock-climbing instruction like one would teach yoga. Instead of focusing on the conquest and competition, he encouraged me to simply experience the flow of my movements as I climbed, albeit slowly, up the wall. I wasn’t scaling a granite cliff, but I actually liked the way this ballet of moves felt. After a few times on the wall, my confidence level soared. I’ll be interested to see if my fear returns when we progress to an actually cliff.

Stay tuned! I’ll keep you posted on my progress!