My first day back on a rock was also our last outdoor climb of the year.
I woke the next morning to a flurry of snow, the mild days of fall gone in a pure white instant and I knew that it was over. Wet rock was impossible to climb and Edward had been warning me for weeks that the season was almost to a close. I begged him to take me out one last time, using my body and mouth to my advantage, and had him relenting in seconds.
This was a newly acquired skill.
Even though we hadn't climbed at all in almost two months, we'd been keeping each other occupied. Most of that was with our tongues, but we'd tried to branch out a little in the last few weeks and I'd been accompanying Edward and Jasper to the rock gym as a spectator. Jasper only joined us only when we could pry him off Alice. It was a task that got harder and harder to do as the weeks passed, the two of them finding a comfortable middle ground between high fashion and desert rat that seemed implausible.
The gym had nothing on the real thing, dusty and smelly and congested with people and stagnant air, but the boys bared their teeth and soon enough had just about every other climber off the wall, watching them instead. They moved with a skilled ease that I couldn't spot in anyone else and were both sort of awe-inspiring to watch, maybe especially for the experienced climbers. Edward stood beside me one afternoon, a crowd gathered around us as we watched Jasper dance all over the wall as though he was completing a giant connect-the-dots puzzle. I understood by now that there were specific routes on the giant, jumbled wall, each color indicating a specific climb to follow.
Jasper was disregarding all of this, swirling around the entire face rather than belittle himself with the rather mundane problems.
They had a grudge against gym climbers. Gym climbers were soft, exhibitionists who couldn't exist in the real world because mother nature doesn't map out her routes with neon-colored polyurethane holds. Her problems were far more subtle, intricate series of steps that required observation and strength that the gyms forever tried to imitate, but could never parallel. Gym climbers found themselves 'thretching' up a boulder problem as though they'd never climbed before, no matter how revered they were under the cover of a roof. The boys hated going there and I think they only did it to show off and retain some muscle strength, caving under duress or freak weather.
Such as winter.
Which was fast upon us.
We headed back to our boulder field that last day, the green of summer faded out to brown and grey, grass hard and crunchy beneath our feet. Edward marched ahead with two crash pads on his back which I thought was a little unnecessary at first, but the memory of our last climb stopped me from saying anything.
Another crash pad certainly would hurt.
He took me back to my very first problem, that boulder tucked way back at the farthest end of the trail. I tried not to smile at him when we stopped beneath it, but totally failed. He grinned back and dropped the pads to the dirt, busying himself with refilling his chalk bag, billowing clouds of white powder lofting into the air and catching hold of every ounce of sunbeam streaming through the trees. It dusted his hair with a shimmery halo of white and settled in his eyelashes.
"What is this one called, anyway? I asked as I was lacing up my shoes, my feet sliding easily inside now that the rubber was beginning to contour to my feet and I knew how to pull them on without dislocating my ankle. I'd been on so many climbs, had watched him climb a million others, all with the strangest of names. I was rather perplexed that I hadn't bothered to learn the name of my very first climb.
"The Problem Queen." Edward flashed me that killer smiled before he pulled his shirt over his head, discarding it on top of a nearby rock and tensing every one of those muscles. "That's how I knew you were special."
He winked at me and leapt for the rock, prancing up it in seconds and waiting for me at the top. I took more time, adjusting to the dull ache in my hand that I had the feeling would stick around for a while. Edward had me training with rice, placing two deep bowls of it in front of me and instructing me to sink my hands in up to the wrist and move them through the rice in a couple of different patterns. I had no idea how it was supposed to help until five minutes later when all the muscles clear up to my shoulder were aching from the simple exertion. I was glad he'd made me do it so much in my off time because this would have been impossible otherwise, my muscles feeling weak and unused as it was. It was only five holds but it took me forever, even once the ache had died away, and I got that flush of adrenaline which reminded me why I liked doing this in the first place. I gritted my teeth and sunk my softened fingers into the stone, pulling myself to the top out of force of will alone.
Edward offered a hand and pulled me to my feet on top of the rock, putting his hand on my neck to kiss me solidly. Part of me knew he was doing it to distract me from the dizzying fall to the ground that was sloshing through my stomach. Part of me didn't rightly care and I kissed him back, still buzzing on an adrenaline high.
"Thanks. I needed that," I panted against his mouth when he pulled away to smile at me, talking about the kiss and the climb.
"I figured your first time back on that hand should be on something easy."
"You didn't pick it to be metaphorical? Or, did you do it to relive the glory of finding yourself a Gabby, struggling up a rock?"
Edward smiled sideways at me, pulling me in for one of those soft, sweet kisses he seemed to like so much. We stood on top of the boulder, feet encased in ugly shoes, arms and hands leaving faint chalk imprints everywhere we touched each other and our bruises finally fading away. He sighed into my mouth, speaking against my lips.
"No. To relive the glory of finding myself a Girl, struggling up a rock."
Advice on how to successfully complete (or protect) a particular climbing route problem, or crux sequence. Some climbers believe that beta 'taints' an ascent.
The practice of climbing on large boulders. Typically this is close to the ground, so protection takes the form of crash pads and spotting instead of belay ropes.
A slang word, referring to a difficult or uncomfortable hold, often one that tears the skin on the hand.
The art of climbing on buildings, which is often illegal.
The act of climbing without using any feet.
A compound used to improve grip by absorbing sweat. It is actually gymnastics chalk, usually magnesium carbonate. Its use is controversial in some areas.
A hand-sized holder for a climber's chalk that is usually carried on a chalk belt for easy access during a climb.
Metal framework with spikes attached to boots to increase safety on snow and ice.
A thick mat used to soften landings or to cover hazardous objects in the event of a fall.
A hold which is only just big enough to be grasped with the tips of the fingers.
The most difficult portion of a climb.
Type of High Ball boulder, where one can possibly die when falling from above.
A dynamic climbing technique in which the hold is grabbed at the apex of upward motion. This technique places minimal strain on both the hold and the arms.
Wobbly knees resulting from tired legs. Also known as Sewing Machine Legs, Elvis Legs.
A dynamic move to grab a hold that would otherwise be out of reach. Generally both feet will leave the rock face and return again once the target hold is caught. Non-climbers would call it a jump or a leap.
The first successful completion of a route.
A type of jam using the hand.
To successfully and cleanly complete a climbing route on the first attempt after having received beta of some form. Also refers to an ascent of this type. For ascents on the first attempt without receiving beta see on-sight.
Climbing without unnatural aids, other than used for protection.
A young female climber who shows great potential in climbing.
An inexperienced, unknowledgeable and oblivious climber; a derogatory term.
A tall boulder problem. Falling becomes more dangerous due to the increase in height.
(Spanish hueco "hole") A climbing hold consisting of a pocket in the rock, typically round and deep and featuring a positive lip. Huecos vary in size from accommodating a single finger (this is also called a "mono") to large enough to fit one's entire body. The term hueco entered the jargon of rock climbers from the Texas climbing area Hueco Tanks that is famous for this sort of hold.
Wedging a body part into a crack.
Slang word that means bad gear or rotten rock.
A move used to surmount a ledge or feature in the rock in the absence of any useful holds directly above. It involves pushing down on a ledge or feature instead of pulling down.
A clean ascent, with no prior practice or beta.
Used in bouldering, the path that a climber takes in order to complete the climb. Same as route in roped climbing.
To cleanly complete a route. i.e. on-sight, flash, redpoint.
A forced day off, due to injury, weather, inaccessibility etc.
A sloping hold with very little positive surface. A sloper is comparable to palming a basketball.
A method of protection commonly used during bouldering or before the leader has placed a piece of protection. The spotter stands beneath the climber, ready to absorb the energy of a fall and direct him away from any hazards.
To climb without grace or style.
A technical grading system for bouldering problems, invented by John Sherman.
The Hueco Scale / "V-grade"
The "V" Scale, devised by John 'Vermin' Sherman at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site in the 1990s, is the most widely used system in North America. Although open-ended, the "V" system currently covers a range from V0 to V16. At the easier end of the scale, some use the designation "VB" (sometimes said to designate "basic" or "beginner") for problems easier than a V0. Particularly at the lower end of the scale, the grades are sometimes postfixed with "+" (harder) or "-" (easier) to further distinguish the difficulty range within a single grade. Next-wave ascents harder than the current set of top-end problems will hypothetically continue to increase numbers in the scale.
The scale is similar to many other systems in that it does not take danger or fear into account. Problems are rated based solely on the physical challenge involved. This implies that problems have the same grade on the V-scale on toprope as they would have when bouldered. Due to this limitation, guidebooks will often separately indicate when problems are dangerous for various reasons, for example, using the term 'highball' to indicate unusually tall boulders. If the terrain underneath the problem is especially problematic (rocky, unusually steep, or for any other reason), the 'landing' of the problem will frequently be noted. Some world-class climbers encourage the use of the British E scale in cases where these dangers affect the difficulty of problems.
Conceptually, the "V" Scale is the bouldering equivalent of the earlier Australian (Ewbank) grading system for climbing - both have the advantages of not predefining an upper limit on difficulty measurement (as happened with the original Yosemite Decimal System), nor of having artificial divisions within the range of grades (as is the case with most other grading systems that use designations such as "a", "b", "c", "d", "+", "-" etc. within a single "grade").
All of the climbs in Chalk were named after songs I was listening to at the time, although in reality their monikers aren't especially tame. From funny to obscene to downright weird, the naming of a route is a honor bestowed upon the one who holds claim on the First Ascent.
In all reality, the Passion Pit might only have been known as that to Edward himself, until he claimed the route.
Problem Queen - Danger Mouse, Daniel Luppi and Nora Jones
Coffin Nails - Atreyu
Modern Man's Hustle - Atmosphere
Ship In A Bottle - Bright Eyes
Straight Edge of the Blade - Jenny and Johnny
Lock and Key - The Whispertown 2000
This Too Shall Pass/ Passion Pit Remix - Ok Go
Damned If She Do - The Kills
Paper Tiger - Beck
The Delicate Place - Spoon
Jail Bird - M. Ward
Soft Shoulder - Ani DiFranco