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The road to the top: rock climbing from a beginner’s perspective

August 12, 2011
MARGARET MORAN , Lake Placid News

NORTH HUDSON - "On belay," my guide Lori Crowningshield, an employee of The Mountaineer, which is located in Keene Valley on state Route 73, informed me.

"I'm climbing," I said.

"Climb on," she responded.

And after that simple exchange of words, I looked at the cliff in front of me, grabbed hold of portions of the rock sticking out a bit with my hands and wedged my foot into a crack at the base before pushing myself upward, a step closer to the summit.

I was climbing King Philips Spring Wall, located near exit 30 of the Northway (I-87) heading toward Keene Valley on the left hand side, early in the morning of Saturday, Aug. 27, and it marked my first rock climbing experience.

Crowningshield said it's a great cliff for beginners.

"It's a longer climb, so it allows clients to get more familiar with the rock," she said.

The climb is 100 feet to the summit.

To get to the cliff, we had to hike approximately 10 minutes. We first visited the top of the cliff where Crowningshield set up our anchor, which included camalots, carabiners, slings and static line.

"You have to remind yourself to be redundant," she said in regard to setting up an anchor. "You don't want to just depend on one piece of gear. You are focused on safety, and how safe you can make it for yourself."

When we reached the based of the cliff, Crowningshield tied me in, placing a dynamic rope into my harness and knotting it several times. With my other gear - my helmet and rock climbing shoes - in place and Crowningshield, my belayer, controlling the line, I was ready to try to conquer the cliff.

The climb

As soon as I started climbing, everything else melted away. I was solely focused on where to place my hands and feet.

Searching my surroundings and trying to stay in line with the top rope, I looked for crevices, cracks or ledges to place my feet, since I felt most secure doing that.

With each deliberate step I took, I got closer to my goal of reaching the top.

It was at a small boulder near the summit of the cliff that I encountered some difficulty.

I could see a great place to grab hold of above me, but it was out of reach, and I couldn't leverage myself up to it using my legs, since there were no places nearby that I felt secure placing my feet.

So I moved horizontally to the left to see if it would be easier to get to the top that way. No, it actually looked more difficult.

Therefore, I went to the right of where I originally was to see if that was a better way to go.

At first it seemed to be a promising route, since there was a triangle crevice. But once I was able to get my foot in it, it didn't feel right. My leg was in an awkward position, making it difficult for me to push myself up.

So I opted to go back to where I started. Again, I saw the piece of rock I wanted to grab, but it was inches out of my reach, taunting me.

Why can't I be taller, I thought. Why couldn't I have been 5 feet 8 inches tall like my doctor predicted I would be? I could really use that growth spurt right about now.

I felt stuck. For a fleeting moment, I thought about giving up, but immediately dashed away that thought.

Giving up wasn't an option. I was so close to the top. There had to be a way to move beyond this point; I just had to find it.

"Any suggestions?" I called out to Crowningshield.

"Look for anything that you can put your foot on, even if it's just for a second, so you can push yourself up," she said.

So I looked at my surroundings again and found a little bulge on the cliff's surface off to the side of me.

I didn't like that it was so small and in a somewhat awkward position for me to reach, but it was the only option I had.

It'll be over quickly, I told myself. One, two, three ... and I made the move and was able to grab hold of the piece of rock above.

I made it! What a relief.

From that point on, the route to the top was manageable. There were places within my reach to place both my hands and feet.

In mere minutes I was at the top. I looked down to see what I had accomplished. I couldn't believe I had just climbed all that rock. I was so high up!

Now, I had to get back down.

"Let go of the rock and sit back like you're sitting in a chair," Crowningshield said.

I could feel my heart beating faster with those words. I was nervous and scared to let go of the rock I had been clinging to this entire time.

The idea of letting go and descending backwards reminded me of that trust exercise where you fall backwards and have to rely on the person behind you to catch you before you hit the ground. Unfortunately, I was never good at it.

Also, not helping the situation is my fear of falling.

So the fact that I had to let go of the rock and lean back gave me pause. I paused for several minutes, gripping the rock and warming myself up to lean back.

Then I told Crowningshield that I was ready to come down. Breathing in and out, I let go of the rock and gripped the rope instead, sat back as much as I dared and straightened my legs out.

I then slowly descended the cliff with Crowningshield's assistance, stopping at ledges along the way to get my composure. When my feet hit the dirt at the cliff's base, I felt relief and a great sense of accomplishment.

Back on the ground, Crowningshield complimented me on how well I had done and the fact that I was able to overcome some challenges.

"I think the fact that it's challenging is why people keep coming back to the sport," Crowningshield said.

She said that the challenge of rock climbing never goes away whether you're just starting the sport or have been doing it for years, since each cliff, each location poses its own set of challenges.

"But it's also rewarding, too, when you make it to the top," Crowningshield said.

Creating your own rock climbing


"If you are a beginner climber, go out with a guide or a friend experienced with setting up an anchor and a top rope," Crowningshield suggested. "There are plenty of guide services in the area."

The Mountaineer provides a list of guide services on its website at, and sells climbing gear along with other products.

Crowningshield said the price to go rock climbing with a guide ranges from approximately $150 to $250 based on the climber's needs of either a half or a full day and his or her experience.

She said if an individual goes out with a guide, everything from instruction to rock climbing equipment should be included.

The only things a person should have to bring with them is a day pack containing food, a beverage, layers of clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellent.

Crowningshield encourages everyone to try rock climbing in order "to get out there, to challenge themselves and see if they like it."

To contact The Mountaineer, call 518-576-2281.

Contact Margaret Moran at 518-523-4401 or at



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