More Field Notes
Jenn Fields blogs about Boulder’s great outdoors at fieldnotes.pmpblogs.com .
Like Odysseus’ siren song, Boulder called me home as I headed to St. Louis for Christmas.
But to turn around mid-Kansas would have meant crashing irreparably into the rocks with my mom.
Before departing on my annual Midwestern Christmas odyssey (yes, it does reach emotionally epic proportions and therefore warrants the word “odyssey”), I called Upper Limits — the only rock gym in this metro area of 3 million and my only shot for climbing during the odyssey — to ask what the heck they meant on their website about climbers demonstrating “proficiency in setting up an ATC style belay system.”
“Do I have to belay with an ATC?” I asked the guy. “Because I always belay at the gym with a Grigri.”
“After you take the belay test, you can belay with whatever you like,” he said. “But you have to take the test with an ATC.”
For the non-climbers out there, this is akin to trying to show someone you know how to drive a stick by shifting an automatic from “P” to “D.”
“So,” I said, that single syllable soaked in exasperation, “I have to take a test with a device I’m not going to belay with?” It’s possible I added something like, “That’s just silly.”
“Well it’s good to know how to belay with the most basic device,” he said defensively.
“Sure, but … Whatever, I’m glad I called, because there’s no way I would’ve had an ATC in my gym bag,” I said, now full-on Boulder-snobbing the guy. “Do you guys have lead ropes?”
Non-climbers: If you want to climb from the ground up in a gym, leading like you do outside, gyms in Boulder have lead ropes available at the front desk for you to use.
“Yes, we rent lead ropes.”
“Wait, ‘rent’ — I have to pay for a lead rope?” I spat. Boulder gyms don’t charge for this.
“Yes.” He’d lost all humor about our conversation at this point.
I hadn’t and laughed as I said the following: “Um, OK, I’ll bring my own.” It’s possible I added something like, “Geez.”
Hanging up, I declared: “None of this would fly at a gym in Boulder.”
Screw climbing, run, you may say. But my first day in St. Louis was gray and wet. The second, the same. I missed the sunshine, which gives Boulder’s siren song perfect pitch. I longed for Flagstaff, where I’ve been bouldering on lunch breaks for two months. It turns my fingertips into hamburger and leaves me wasted. I’m spoiled, and I love it.
Oh sirens, the shore doesn’t look too rocky.
I arrived at Upper Limits expecting to find a poster with my photo on the door: “Wanted: Boulder Snob. Reward: Free ATC & Lead Rope Rental.” But I didn’t say my name when I called, so they foolishly let us in.
My brother Matt is much younger than me, wiry and thinks bouldering is “dope.” So I decided to forgo lead ropes and belay tests (even though I had three belay devices in my bag and a rope) and just boulder with my bro.
It was all going fine until I topped out a problem.
When I went to hop over the rail, there was a table on the other side. Uh oh, I thought, guess I wasn’t supposed to top out. The gym wouldn’t put a table in the way if people were regularly doing this.
I only made it half way down the stairs before the same staffer who’d (foolishly) let me in bolted up and said: “Yeah, we don’t top out here.”
He said something about the railing usually deterring people. I thought of the rails atop the bouldering at the Boulder Rock Club and Movement.
So I Boulder snobbed him: “The gym I belong to has a rail to hop in the bouldering area, so that’s no deterrent.”
But feeling a little bad — the poor guy works somewhere so rule-bound, not one of our rad Boulder gyms — I assured him I wouldn’t top out any more.
I could tell he hated me. Which made me feel like an outlaw, but the kind of outlaw most climbers are at heart.
New poster: “Wanted: Calamity Jenn, Boulder Snob. Belays with Grigri, tops out boulder problems, hates silly rules. Shoot on sight if seen wearing Verve capris in winter in St. Louis.”
Jenn Fields’ Field Notes runs every Monday in the Colorado Daily.