On a crisp early morning of Dussehra day I trudged along the path leading to the rock climbing area of the Laado Serai park near Mehrauli in South Delhi. The orange gravel crunched under my slippers and the birds chirped their early morning songs. Lungfuls of clean air were invigorating. And the stillness of the morning calm was pregnant with expectation. As if someone would suddenly pull up the curtains on this tranquil facade and all hell would break loose.
I come here quite often in the mornings to climb the small cluster of boulders in the middle of the park. And as always, the first sight of the dull orange rock brings a smile to my face and my eyes automatically turn upwards to the top of face no 11 as it greets me like a good friend. I connect, I really do connect with this place..the moment I see it, I feel it.
Rock climbing is an intense passion
I pass under face no 2. Face no 2 has been giving me sleepless days (I usually doze off in office!!) for the past couple of weeks. It is the most beautiful piece of rock in the rock climbing area. It starts off slightly overhung for the first 5 metres, which is the tough part, and then slips back to vertical and is very smooth for the rest of its 12 m height. The rock face has precious few indentations to provide leverage for desperate fingers. Where the overhung part merges into vertical rock is where the climber has to pull up his whole bodyweight on a fingernail-deep knob while his feet kick thin air. It is 5 m off the ground with a not-too-scary landing on grass. That is the crux – ‘The Move’.
Getting to the Move itself is a bit tricky but I had mastered it after a couple of tries. ‘The Move’ itself is a different matter. I have made 5 attempts, including once with a rope. That I had thought would give me greater confidence. Yet success had always eluded me. I even fell off a couple of times and just could not pull myself up on the thin knob. Therefore I had started thinking that Face No 2 was beyond me at the moment. I was just not good enough for it. Perhaps, I had lost the mental edge over the rock. I was resigned to stare at it longingly for some time.
Planning the Move in Rock Climbing
I walked past No 2 and said hi to my favorite warm up boulder before stretching out for a few minutes on its crimpy holds. There was sumthing in the air …what was the buzz, what was the rock saying to me? I felt good, the stretch of my hamstrings was perfect and my body flowed on the rock like the alien in Predator..!!Suddenly I know it. That this is my best chance to crack ‘The Move’. I know I am ready for it.
Walking up to the grassy patch under face no 2 I look at it. There I can see the small knob of orange rock protruding from the smooth quartzite cliff where the overhang turns vertical. Oh no man…!! its a centimetre deep. There is no way ANYONE can pull up on that peanut sized hold..!! I start losing the invincible feeling..the mind starts its tricks again. My mind is trying to convince me with logic.
I quickly dip my hands into my chalkbag and rub my hands with the dry chalk. This absorbs moisture off the hands and helps to firm the grip on rock. I then touch the rock, fold my hands in prayer, close my eyes and connect with the god of Rock…
The horizontal crack is a few inches above my head. I wedge the fingers of both hands into it and place my left foot on vertical smooth rock. Pulling up with my arms I am soon off the ground. I reach out with my left hand to shove my two middle fingers into the neat horizontal pocket above the crack. Next, steadying my left foot, I grab the vertical edge with my right hand. Then, my bodyweight shifts to the left so that my right hand sticks with the rock on pure friction. I am arched like a bow, sticking to the rock, following its overhung contours and my body feels like jelly. Its like a yogic aasana and my concentration is total.
My left arm goes up steadily like the seconds hand on the Big Ben, slowly feeling the rock. I cannot afford to make any sudden moves because the balance required is immense. My left hand feels the horizontal groove 2 ft above my head and I breathe a sigh of relief as I hold onto it. It’s the best hold on the whole face, an inch deep and 6 inches wide horizontal groove. I slowly bring up my right hand as I stick to the rock with my left hand and the big toe of my left foot. Then, I bring up my feet to the horizontal crack where my hands were a few seconds ago. And I am now stuck at an angle of 70 degrees with the horizontal facing upwards, 2 meters off the ground. Just staying in this gravity defying position is sapping my strength.
Therefore I have to make ‘The Move’ in Rock Climbing now.
Time for Action
I reach out with my left hand and on full stretch, clasp the little curved knob.Thereafter, I take off my right hand from the good hold and clasp a little bit of rough rock next to my left hand. While holding my breath to give the next move all my strength, I heave. And my fingers stretch under the strain as rough rock bites into my fingertips. I can feel the tendons of my biceps tearing apart. At the same time, my knees scratch the rough rock desperately looking for traction. Just then my struggling left toe finds a small groove in the rock. Now, at full stretch I let some of my weight ease onto the toe hold.
Then, I let go of the hold with my left hand. I carefully feel the rock to the left with it. Now, grasping a protruding hold before I realize it, I have hcrossed the overhang.
I am not thinking, everything is happening automatically. My hands are doing their own thing, my feet are their own masters, my body is working like clockwork. My mind is nowhere in the picture. iA higher power is guiding my body. I have made ‘The Move’. Oh YEAH!!! I’VE MADE THE Rock Climbing MOVE..!!! My mind starts to clear and I look around me. I am standing on a centimetre deep horizontal ledge with two toes of my right foot. My right hand is firmly grasping a round knob – where did that come from?? And the rock above me is smooth but less than vertical. My feet are 5 m off the ground.
I dig my hands into my chalk bag and feel the buzz thats pounding my head like a hammer. I’m feeling it man..bigtime..! I’ve still got to go 5 m more on really smooth and polished rock but nothings going to stop me now. I take a few deep breaths and steady myself. Then I test my next hand hold, a sloping smooth dip in the rock. Right foot on a sloping dip, right hand pulls a sloping dip and I am near the top. The top is super smooth, like talc and turns grey in colour, unlike the orange and brown lower half but the gradient is 60 – 70 deg here. Its all balance here.
Take it easy and don’t rush it.. I am 10 m off the ground and a fall from here would be serious but I am not thinking of falls, I am not thinking at all. I am totally focussed on the job at hand and it is just one of those climbs where everything comes together perfectly, like meditation, nothing else matters.
The Reward of Rock Climbing
I pull over the edge of the wide ledge. That is the reward for the climb and I let out a Tarzanesque scream of triumph. I don’t know what that was for, but it just came from within me. I watch the fruits of 2 weeks of extreme mental and physical effort which now dances before me. It was triumph. But not over the rock. I didn’t conquer the rock. No, I didn’t prove I am better than the rock. The rock blessed me. It showed me something I could never have experienced if I had not climbed it. Showed me something real. Totally inexplicable to someone who has not climbed. Like intoxication…you cant really explain it to a teetotaller. It allowed me to let go of my fears, squashed my negative thoughts. Certainly, it was a triumph of the spirit.
The thorny kikkar jungle spreads out happily before me and even the towering phallic Qutub Minar looks a little dwarfed to me today. I sit down on the ledge with my back against the rock and just stare at nothing. Ah! I can feel my blood whooping with joy as it rushes through my fatigued forearms. My hand locks in place when I clench my fist and refuses to open.
OH…The perfect climb.