“I need water now. You have to belay me down now, please,” I plead.
“Okay, it’ll be okay. Just close your eyes and lean back,” Austin replies calmly.
So I lean back…in my harness…on the edge of a cliff face. The good news is I was climbing with my buddy in the iconic climbing spot of the mid-west, El Dorado, Colorado. Leave it up to me to conveniently experience altitude sickness at the top of the first pitch of the most epic climb I’ve ever endured.
Austin yells down to me, “How’re you doing?” I see his kind face staring down at me as he belays me down the wall. The sun blazes in my eyes and sweat trickles down my face. I quickly stare ahead at the rock in front of me, grazing my fingers over the cool cracks trying anything to lower my body temperature.
I yell back up to Austin, “I’m fine!” That was me trying to convince myself otherwise. I breathe in through my nose, then out through my mouth, in through my nose, and out through my mouth–a tactic I learned from yoga to calm the mind–and soon enough I could feel the earth beneath my feet.
I tugged on the rope a little, loosening the tension so I could crawl over to my half empty nalgene. I gulped down what was left of the then warm water then hollered up to Austin, “Off belay!” my voice echoed through the canyons as I unclipped the carabiner from my harness and relieved the rope from the ATC.
I sat on a rock, chin in one hand, water bottle in the other, admiring the adventurous souls of the climbers scattered upon the neighboring canyon wall. Austin, ever so gallantly, belayed himself down the wall and landed next to me.
“How’re you feeling?”
“Better,” I half-smiled, “Gonna need some more water though,” I said, shaking the last droplets of water at the bottom of my nalgene then chugging them back as if that was my last life source.
“Whew,” Austin laughed, relieved, “I thought you were gonna blackout mid-belay.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes scouring down a few pb&j’s and enjoying our safe arrival back to the ground.
“So, I was thinking of this other multi-pitch we could try out just up the road a bit. It’s called Star Wars,” Austin says.
I ponder for a moment how this sounds after what we just endured and want to scream, eyes wide “What are you crazy???” but then chime in saying, “Yeah, that sounds great. Let’s send it.”