Words and Photos by Joshua Haskins
The headlights swept over the thin asphalt line between the looming black trees. The empty road twisted, rose and fell, serpentine my co-pilot “resting her eyes” in the passenger seat, her and our dog Clementine checked out, after what was supposed to be a six-hour drive slowly stretched into ten. A passing car flashed their high beams at me and I double checked to make sure my own brights were off. “What the hell was that about?” I wondered. Within another mile I soon found out. We crested a rise and an almost spectral, slender figure in the opposite lane ambled with no apparent purpose. The speedometer dropped to twenty MPH as I stared slack jawed, stunned into silence at the towering profile of a moose cow out for an evening stroll. I regained my words as she faded behind us to half shout “Holy crap!” A voice from the passenger seat, startled awake, called out “What?!” I let her know what I had just seen on the road and she grumpily replied, “Why didn’t you tell me before we passed it so I could see?” And thus, began our short weekend, in Rumney, New Hampshire.
I will be forthright from the get-go on this. I am, at best, a weekend warrior when it comes toclimbing. Most of my wall time is in the artificial environment of the gym and I am far from what most people would even call particularly good at it. Now that the air is clear I can go on to say there are few things in the world I get more excited about than climbing. I have a great core group of friends I climb with regularly and when the disparate schedules of adult life line up like so many celestial bodies we make our way out to the nearest areas to try and cut our teeth on real rock.
This particular trip our friend Luis was celebrating another year circling the sun so we had blocked out a weekend to camp and climb in the White Mountains. Luis and his wife are very much sport climbers whereas I am more comfortable wrestling pebbles, but when it’s your buddy’s big weekend you pull hard. Due to unfortunate circumstances I was only able to make it for the second day, which turned out fine as I had never lead a single route in my life much less rope-gunned (placing the quickdraws on the bolts as you work your way up the route). We arrived at the Meadows in Rumney after a relaxed morning at camp, stuffing grocery store fried chicken into our mouths as we shouldered out gear and headed up the short trail from the parking lot.
Once we had picked out a few beginner friendly routes Luis gave me the briefest of crash courses on placing the quickdraws at each bolt and (optimistically) how to clip the chains at the final anchor. Without any further pomp or circumstance off I went, and froze like a rabbit in headlights two bolts up. I would start inching my way higher then get stuck in my own head about how I had never taken a lead fall and how terribly it could possibly go on a slabby route. I’d summarily downclimb back to the relative safety of that last bolt and hang there cursing myself until I realized I should let someone with a little more panache head up the route.
Once a couple ropes had been put up and top roping was an option my confidence was bolstered and it was a night and dayexperience on the rock, I cruised up the same holds that I had clung to, sweaty palmed and knock-kneed. While arguably the challenge had largely been eliminated once the more skilled sport climbers in my group had put up the ropes it was still a great afternoon with friends pushing comfort zones and finding our flow on the cool cliff face. Each member of our little group had personal successes whether it was a first rope gun, first outdoor 5.9 lead, or first time climbing outside at all. The encouragement flowed like water as it so often does in the climbing community and we shared beta as the sky slowly darkened. We scrambled to get in our last climbs before the oncoming deluge.
As the rain clouds rolled in we retreated to our campsite to toast Luis’ birthday and our personal triumphs of the afternoon. As the fire blazed the rain water rose from our jackets in steamy apparitions, cold cans of beer in our hands and fire cooked steak on Hawaiian rolls in our mouths, even soaking wet and cold we were unabashedly, gloriously content.