I hover in the air, two meters above the mat, paralyzed. My grip tightens, my hands begin to sweat, and the panic sets in. I am unsure of my strength and unsure of my abilities in this new and unfamiliar terrain.
I look down at my boyfriend, who urges me on. But I’m frozen. Tears fill my eyes. I look up at the colorful blurry bulges still ahead, leading to the top of the wall.
It’s my first time bouldering and I am terrified. I feel very aware of myself, my fear of heights, and my anxiety on the wall, and assume everyone has stopped what they’re doing to look up at me and judge. I don’t belong here.
But it’s all in my head. Everyone in the converted warehouse is minding their own business, and climbing the walls at their own pace.
I feel guilty that we came all this way and I won’t even make it to the top. I am sure that if I ever make it down, I will have to call it a day.
Then, somehow, perhaps out of guilt for wasting money or time, or, as I like to imagine, pure determination, I muster the strength and push to the top of the wall and over, until both my hands touch the yellow “end” bulges.
I look down. My boyfriend smiles proudly up.
Now to get down. I move slowly, attaching to anything with a firm grip, and jump down at a height I feel confident won’t break my legs.
I am filled with an overwhelming sense of achievement (and relief). My boyfriend high-fives me. I feel so cool, and already excited to tackle the next wall.
We walk around to find another relatively easy problem. Already, I notice the confidence in my stride. We stop in front of another line of yellow holds, leading around a corner and up, higher than the last problem.
I watch as my boyfriend lifts himself up, reaches the end holds, and jumps down.
The adrenaline pumps through my body as excitement takes hold. I can’t wait to give this one a go. Up I go, with much more confidence than the last time. I surprise myself when I reach the top, without even the slightest hesitation on the wall. What an improvement to five minutes ago!
I’m starting to get the hang of this. And I’m starting to love it.
The walls are a mix of yellows, blues, greens, reds, oranges, and sparse blacks. The different colored holds indicate the level of difficulty. Yellow for beginners, black for the pros.
This first session only gets better as I learn to recognize and use my strength and capabilities on the wall. I begin to push myself a little more on each new problem. I challenge myself to use more legs on this one, or try a new grip on the next, and learn to use the wall for support. I swing and grab, crawl horizontally, and hang from high holds.
My childhood urges from lunch-breaks on the playground and weekends climbing trees all come screaming back to me. I’ve found my jungle.
And then my arms begin to ache. We decide to take a break.
We sit down on a mat overlooking a wall that disappears under a cave and watch the others. Some people are in groups, others in pairs, and quite a few are on their own. And you can immediately tell: they are here because they love it.
Everyone is at a different level: from fellow yellows, to the more experienced climbers.
It’s fascinating to see how each person approaches the wall. Beginners, like us, just go for it. The experienced climbers study the problem first and visualize their moves. When they do begin to climb, they are graceful, sliding from one hold to another, dancing their way to the top. They use their feet and hands in creative — almost unimaginable — ways, gripping with their heels and pushing with their hands. Their bodies bend and flex, moving elegantly from hold to hold.
Despite the strength and skill required, there are no signs of arrogance, no superficiality. Everyone is here to do the same thing: push themselves mentally and physically, and enjoy the ride. The people are encouraging, and want to help others achieve their best. There’s a sense of community here.
The chilled beats from the sound system complement the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere and the laid back vibes from the café area. A few people drink beer at the bar, others sit on the old couches and read or write.
We decide to tackle a couple more problems before calling it a day and celebrating with a beer.
I finish my last problem and head up to the changing rooms.
I feel an immense sense of accomplishment, renewed self-confidence, and incredibly empowered, and I think to myself, “If I can do this, I can do anything”.
I can’t wait to return and feel this way again.