11: Becoming Mainers
Where the Magic Happens

Where the Magic Happens

The weather in Maine has shifted and spring is here! The days shuffle between gray and calm to blue-sky-sunshine and breezy. Regardless of the wind factor, we have been treating our Cabin Fever with mega doses of granite walls, root-infested trails, and cold, clear lakes.

Gearing up for some exploratory climbing at Park’s Pond – another local crag.


The first few climbing days spent at Eagle’s Bluff – one of our local climbing areas – were frustrating (mostly for me – Stephane can get on anything and climb it). The climbing out here in Maine is very different from what we are used to in Colorado. First of all, the rock is different – Colorado is gritty, dry sandstone sliced through by beautiful cracks. These cracks are what we use to climb up the rock:


Charlie leading a line @ Indian Creek (Utah).


Depending on the width of the crack, you can get your feet (or a toe) into it, your hands / arm / fingers into it, and move on up. Here’s Lee on a climb @ Escalante (Colorado).


Because you are sticking your hands into the gritty rock, you tape them up to protect your skin (and sometimes wear a long-sleeve shirt).


If you are lead climbing (this means you are the first one to go up the route – it is your job to climb the route, taking the rope up with you, and then set the rope through the anchors at the top), you place this gear in the crack as you move up the route. This is called a “cam” (short for Camalot) and it protects you while you are climbing. You secure the cam in the crack, put the rope through it and if you fall, the cam will hold you.


Cams look like this – they come in different sizes because cracks some in different sizes. Part of the job of the lead climber is to look at the route they are climbing and determine what kind of cams (which sizes and how many of each size) to bring with them on the climb.


The cam is then placed into the crack, like so, and the rope runs through its other end, like so. The lead climber climbs over this piece for a bit, then places another piece. The process is repeated until they reach the anchors (top of the climb). The rope is then threaded through the anchors and down below. Then other climbers can then climb the route on “top rope” – meaning they are not at risk for a fall because the rope is already secured at the top.


We’ve established that the rock out west is this beautiful, red, crack-filled sandstone. So, what about out east? Here, we have granite. Granite is much harder than sandstone, more slippery (you’ll use a lot more chalk on your hands to keep them dry), and there are fewer cracks in it. So a lot of the climbing done out here is called SPORT climbing (versus CRACK or TRADITIONAL climbing like I just explained).

With sport climbing, you grab onto little (or sometimes big) pieces of rock that stick out of the wall; you place your toes on the tiniest little granule and hope it holds. I think it requires a lot more finger / hand strength and balance. As you can tell, I am missing the crack!


With sport climbs, there are no cracks in which to place gear and protect yourself. Instead, the person who has put up (created) the route has drilled bolts into the rock at certain intervals up the rock until the anchor is reached.


In place of cams, “quick draws” are used. With these, you clip one end to the bolt and the other end to the rope (which is attached to you). If you fall, the bolt / quick draw / rope combo will hold you.


This is what it looks like on a route.


Now that you are a little more educated on the climbing that we do out west versus what we have to climb here in Maine, you can see that there is a big difference between the two! This new style of climbing is taking us outside of our comfort zones; making us to push a little more (each in our own ways).


Me on top rope. The rope goes all the way up, out of the picture (through the anchors), and back to me. See how tight the rope is? If I were to fall off the rock, I would go absolutely nowhere. I might drop *maybe* a couple of inches. The beauty of climbing top rope is feeling secure. You can also try moves that you wouldn’t feel comfortable trying on lead.


This is an example of lead climbing. Stephane’s job is to climb to the top of the route and put the rope through the anchor. Right now, he has placed one piece (in this case, a cam because it’s a crack) and has put the rope through it. So, if he were to fall right now, he would be held up by the cam. The scary part for him is that he needs to climb up and over the piece of protection, another four feet or so, and then place another piece that will protect him further up. He’ll continue to climb and place pieces until he reaches the top. The beauty of lead climbing IS the fear factor and mental challenge of climbing knowing that if you fall, you could fall a good 6 feet or more, depending. Physically AND mentally demanding.


Last Sunday was blue-sky-sunshine and a little breezy but we’re protected by the warm, south-facing granite wall of Park’s Pond. Stephane’s leading a really hard climb (unbeknownst to him, it’s a 5.11d – that means its really hard). He is on the route a good while, trying this move, trying that hold:  he’s focused and creative, careful and thoughtful. After much effort and time on the wall, he finally concedes, down climbs, and we move on to another route.


Later in the day I find myself on top rope facing a swing if I fall while attempting a series of three moves. One of the things I fear while climbing is swinging. I know that I’m completely safe if I swing but just the thought of the split-second free-fall petrifies me (my palms are sweating and gooping up the keyboard as I type this). So, I’m standing on a ledge, staring at the moves and thinking it’s time to tap out, tell Stephane I’m done, and have him lower me to the ground.


Except, I don’t.

I actually surprise myself and go for it.

I make the moves and I don’t swing.


I don’t remember where I saw this image, but it resonates with me and I try to apply this not just to climbing but to all kinds of random daily life things.  It doesn’t happen all the time; I’m not perfect and I LIKE being in my comfort zone but when I do try and push outside my bubble of well-being, I have never been disappointed.




This past weekend on the wall, we both happened upon a little magic of our own, each in our own way. Maine’s got some lessons to impart. School’s in session and we are sitting in the front row.

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