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Foli's Climbing Lesson
    Sipping pungent sweet dawn coffee, we sit on the foot bridge above the gurgling river. Foli is my friend from Africa. I have talked him into a morning of rock climbing instruction. He flashes his big smile and says, "Ha.... In Ghana we mostly take it easy when we have vacation. Some of my friends there will not understand why I would want to go out and work hard climbing things."

Soon we are walking up a trail through hardwood forest carrying ropes and gear. In a clearing is the climbing tower. It looks about 30? feet tall with a tin roof to give shelter when rain threatens climbing students. The walls are plywood attached to creosote telephone poles. The front walls are straight up with L shaped corners. Some back walls are overhung so one climbs them leaning back.

There are iron rings fixed into the ground for belaying. There are climbing holds bolted to the walls of all sizes, shapes and colors. Some are shaped like natural rock and some are orange racoons and other creatures. The eye cannot help but marvel at the yellows and purples of kern mantle rope alongside the greens and reds of aluminum alloy carabiniers and belaying devices. All this and good company too on a summer morning.

We are instructed in the safe fastening on of climbing belts or seat harnesses. Apparently manufacturers are moving away from hook-and-felt closures since deaths have occurred when the underlying strong attachments have not been fastened when the hook-and-felt have, allowing the climber to assume they are safe when they are not. Belts have to fit tight for safety and well for comfort. What is comfortable after 10 minutes of belaying may be painful after a period of hanging from the rope. One can make a workable seat harness from webbing but available manufactured seat harnesses offer much safety and comfort for the money.

Tying onto the rope with a double-figure-eight knot leaves little chance of coming off unexpectedly. We are coached in belaying etiquette.. " On belay?" "Belay on!" "Climbing!" "Off Belay."


There are married couples and giggling teenagers in our group. Under the competent instruction, all seem to learn something and behave safely. Qualities of relationships show up quickly in the climbing environment: The man who expects his wife to sacrifice her enjoyment for his and bosses her around. The woman who cannot trust her friend. One who is more conscious of how-I-appear-to-others than of learning, accomplishment or safety. One can see these patterns become obvious to all and begin to change for the better in the outdoor activity environment. This improvement even in the short time we are together.

A heavy man has trouble getting to the top. One of our instructors watches and the encourages him to struggle less and be creative more.

"Climb mostly with legs and feet, and don't get too spread out by trying to reach too far." she offers. Soon he is moving upward again.

We all take turns climbing and belaying. Foli climbs like a spider and makes me feel very safe when he belays me. At first when I try to climb the overhanging wall, it seems too hard and daunting. I watch for a while and try again. This time I am able to go up more easily. I am suddenly aware of how much attitude and belief play a part in climbing ability.

A teenager is pleased with himself and wants to climb with a blindfold on at the instructors suggestion. He reports being in a new dimension with the blindfold, trusting and sensing differently. I am impressed at how well the adolescents do with safety and getting down to business.

After a good lunch with time to reflect and discuss, we are off to rappel. Marching along mountain railroad tracks brings us to stone cliffs that loom ominously tall to the uninitiated. Foli and I are careful not to be first in line at the cliff's edge. There are group members who have done this before and are more confident.

We learn how the belay devices we used in the morning work also as descending devices. They are thought by some to be safer than figure-8 descending rings, since they offer a slower more sedate descent were one might even be let down safely if the rope was just released.

After climbing the cliff, we are coached in Rappelling safety before being tied to the safety belay.

"I don't know if I can really do this." I think, looking over the edge of the rock cliff. I have a brief return of the height phobia I have worked to quiet. Luckily, the flash of uncertainty is pushed back by attending to details of getting ready. I find that "just do it!" gets me over the edge and that once descending, I am not afraid. I probably could not have done this without the morning experience with the climbing wall.

Foli and I each descend the cliffs several times between watching others come down and sitting on the sunny rocks chatting with other "students of the rope". At the end of the afternoon we have a time to share with instructors and students what we experienced. Everyone has learned something. One thinks this sort of thing is not for him. Most are enthusiastic and seem to be planning on more climbing.

Our gear and ropes rattle and clank as we wander back down the railroad tracks toward home, tired and happy.

"I wonder what I will tell the folks back in Ghana about this." laughs Foli.

© 1996, Bill Shamblin
© 1996, Mountain Online

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© 1996, Ikhaya Design Studio " This issue released on 9 October 1996