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Southern Night-Climbing

A story by Jack Ritzenberg



Since I was a young kid I have enjoyed the outdoors, particularly rock climbing. By the time I was in highschool I was spending much of my free time on climbing trips, and one particularly special trip took me from my home in Massachusetts all the way to Alabama. 

I’ve came to Alabama as it is home to a Horse Pens 40, a park particularly well known for its bouldering (10-15 foot boulders that are climbed with no rope, only a ground pad for protection). The spot contains unique sandstone boulders that have features ranging from bulbous sandstone lobes that I can wrap my arms around to minuscule dagger-like holds that stab at my fingertips until they are raw and throbbing. On the most memorable part of the trip, I spent the whole of one night attempting to climbing one difficult boulder. It was about 1:30 am when I made the final attempt of the night. Facing off with the rock once more, I placed two chalky hands into a scooped undercling hold. My mind is beginning to load the sequence of moves that has been mechanically locked into my muscle memory. I can only see the rock now. Probing up a groove with my hands, I lay my open left hand against a small sloping rise in the rock. Next, I slide my right hand onto a nearly non-existent raised edge, I then delicately balance my weight to swap my feet and place a high right foot in a shallow pocket below my right hand. I'm in a virtual dance to remain balanced and attached to the rock's slippery grips. Now in the final push, almost hugging the boulder, I desperately attempt to get on top of the rock. But, I lose my grip, my hands slowly sliding down, the rock grating against my skin like sandpaper as I fall.

The unique element of bouldering climbing like this is that it forces you to focus on a small set of moves which I must execute flawlessly to succeed. Compared to traditional rope climbing, which could be thought of as wrestling a mountain, I think of bouldering as wrestling a pebble, with the intensity and difficulty of a long climb squeezed into a short flurry of moves. The process of bouldering necessitates a problem solving attitude, but most of all, a willingness to fail. Every move on a difficult boulder problem is at the limit of my abilities. As a result, nearly every attempt, and many long sessions of work, will end without immediate success, in a fall, a failure. Of course that night ended in one of these failures, and in the grand scheme of life this is meaningless. Whether you climb a boulder or not is not of any real consequence, but the acceptance of the chance of failure is a mindset that I believe is invaluable to any pursuit in life.

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  Steele, Alabama
April, 2018


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