For various reasons, I haven't been climbing the past few weeks. Mostly it is because my ankle still hasn't healed well from my fall on Cannon in the middle of August. That's helped me to justify not climbing while "Ratherbe" went off to the Tetons on a backpacking trip for two weekends and then again no climbing over Labor Day weekend (because of how my vacation / holiday time works at work, I am choosing to work on Labor Day in order to save that day for a free day when my Mom comes to visit in a couple of weeks. Consequently, I couldn't find anyone who only wanted to climb for Sat / Sun on a typical three-day weekend).
So, I find a newbie who wants to learn how to climb. There's a decent quarry just outside of Boston that is perfect for top-roping and teaching beginners. I figure this is a good chance to teach him the ropes and so on. I figure it's also a chance to test out my ankle climbing for the first time in weeks. The ankle has been a little sore still, but hell, "it ought to be getting somewhat better," I assume.
We're walking in on the tarred path toward the meadow-like field that we have to cross to get to the main walls. We're talking. It's a beautiful day. There's hardly anyone here. A few folks learning rescue on the easy near wall. There's a single rope already set up off in the distance but no one is around it. That's OK because that route is too hard for a beginner anyway. A party of three is walking ahead of us. I'll offer to share ropes if they're interested. That'll save me some set up time and double the number of routes we can do. I'm thinking it's such a nice day. I wish I had brought a hat for my bald head. I didn't even bring sunscreen. "Such a stupid thing to forget," I tell myself. There's really nothing to worry about except for possible sunburn, until I accidentally step on the edge of the path and go down, hard. My right ankle (the bad one) feels as if gets folded in half. My left knee goes straight down to the tar and it feels as if it's been cracked open. I've got blood from six different points running down my left shin and I can barely stand on either leg let alone walk.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. It hurts. It hurts bad. As bad as It's hurt in months when I first sprained it while walking on ice on the way to work. It hurts more than when I fell at the Triangle Roof on Moby Grape a few weeks ago. I'm limping and hobbling all over the place, looking for a safe place to sit down after I stupidly stood up after hitting the ground. Except that I know I have so little support from either leg that if I sit down I'm going to have to fall down and I'm still standing on the tar. I have no desire to fall on the tar again. The gash(es) on my left knee explained in very clear terms the first time how hard the ground is.
It takes a few minute before I'm able to walk again, but I'm favoring both legs in my no-support sandals. I'm still gonna teach this guy how to climb, so we walk to the cliff and we go up to the top and I show him how to set up a top rope. His feet don't fit into my climbing shoes, so he decides to climb barefoot. For a guy who has never climbed before, he's a natural and understands the value of body position without any instruction: he just does what he needs to do and climbs up. The route is kind of hard for him as he moves up, but he gets up to the crux and tries it several times before his feet start to hurt. I'm happy that he trusts the rope and is willing to fall without giving me notice. He's done well, but it's the crux and he'll need to learn how to layback on slick rock before he can get this route clean.
I lower him and decide that its time for him to practice belaying. This means I have to climb a bit, but it works out OK. The ankle hurts, but I find ways of mitigating the pain. He does a good job of belaying, catching, understanding the various terminology and doing the right thing when a certain term is used. I'm happy. I've climbed this route a hundred times, but I'm not interested in pushing it. He lowers me and we talk about what we're going to do next.
There's an easier climb around the corner that I think he can climb with his sneakers on, so I head to the top and reset the rope. I rappel down and feel the strain on my ankle. The angle of my foot on the rock isn't conducive to resting sprains. I'm supposed to climb in the 'Gunks with "Ratherbe" after Labor Day weekend, and there are a lot of raps there. I'm worried that my climbing season may be over. It's frustrating as hell, but what am I going to do? I have to get better. It's frustrating, but I figure I'll go to the 'Gunks just to get another week in. I'll climb hurt now and rest when the season is over. But then there's my two-week reconnaissance trip to Chile in November. I'm going to be doing a lot of walking. "Shoot, do I rest up for that or not?" I can't tell what to do. I can't make that decision now.
My friend runs up the first 15 feet of the route and finds his shoulder hurting. He's coming back from an injury, too, so we call it quits. I decide I'm going to climb up to retrieve the gear. No time like now to test the ankle on a climb, particularly on easy terrain. Where there are three jugs (two hands and one foot, for example), things are good. But at the top there's a hand traverse of sorts that has jugs for hands but requires smearing with the feet. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! I get to the top, but this isn't good. Maybe it's time to practice jugging all over again.
We walk slowly out of the quarry and decide on where to grab food. It's such a nice day. I wish I was climbing, but I can only do so much with what I have. It's September in New England, and climbing season will end in a few weeks when it gets too cold for weekend jaunts to 'Gunks. It may already be getting too cold for North Conway and Cannon. I'm bummed. "Jello" is supposed to come out for a week in October. I'm really looking forward to that. Just like "Ratherbe", he's turned out to be a damn good partner and friend. But he's struggling to find the time to take off from work, so maybe it's a good thing we're playing his trip by ear. If my ankle hasn't healed then that would put a damper on the plans I have for him. If I can't climb the stuff I want to get him on then that would be a wasted trip. This almost happened when I went to Moab with him this past spring; I was at the end of my healing period from the first ankle sprain during that trip. I did more belaying than climbing. It was a fun trip, but it's not something I want to make a habit of. Now this. I keep thinking that my season is going to have to start all over again in Chile in February. Maybe this is a good thing. Life certainly is a mystery. I wonder what life has in store for me next.