First impressions are often interesting encounters in that they set the tone for the relationship that follows. They can be positive, they can be negative but more often than not they are lasting impressions that determine how one will continue to interact with another.
Sometime in the fall of 1997 I took a trip with a few friends to a climbing area in northern Alabama called Sandrock. It had been a couple of years since I had been introduced to rock climbing. But, I had primarily been climbing indoors and this was the first time I would be returning to real rock.
We left Baton Rouge in the late evening on a Friday and made the seven hour drive with great anticipation. As we headed north we left the muddy banks of the Mississippi and drove through the pine forests and rolling hills until we were winding our way up county roads to the top of Shinbone ridge. Road weary and in the dark we threw our sleeping bags on the ground and called it a night. Sleep was crucial as the next day would be a day of great rewards.
As the sun started to light up the ridge and poke through the trees we were roused awake. All around us were sandstone rocks. Some were scarred with graffiti and broken glass lay shattered under many rock outcroppings. And although the place seemed a little abused I found it to be one of the most inspiring sights I had seen. We made our way through the maze of reddish brown walls and fins of rock to an area called the Sun Wall. There was a group of people at the base of this wall. A woman who looked to be somewhere in her mid-40’s was gearing up to lead a climb. As of then I had never seen a woman take the lead. Of course I knew it was going on all the time and there were even some women breaking records and making men look like little boys. But, I had never seen a female in the flesh on the sharp end. I was mesmerized.
Turns out she had tried this route before and fell at the crux. This time she moved through it, right hand grabbing a small crimp and locking off to the next hold for the left. I stood still, palms sweating as I watched her move up the rock – executing perfect sequences and milking each rest. She clipped the anchors and yelled take. I asked her belayer what she was climbing, “It’s called Misty, 5.10c/d,” he replied. She had shown me what was possible and I turned to my mates and said I wanted to go next.
A little surprised and extremely supportive they said, “great, go for it!”
I tied in, counted out ten quick-draws and climbed up the coarse sandstone through crimps up thin moves over a bulge to perfect in- cut edges up a steep upper wall. I shook out, I pulled hard and I clipped the anchors. The climbing had been technical and calculated. It was my first lead climb and a lasting first impression. Throughout the next 14 years I gravitated to other climbs that had a similar style – crimpy, technical, and steep would be what drew me in.
This past winter I returned to Sandrock for the first time in some 7 or so years. As we walked through those brownish red, coarse sandstone walls I found myself at the base of the Sun Wall. Misty was aglow with the morning light and that first encounter came back to me.
I tied in, counted out ten quick-draws and once again made my way through the crimps up towards the steep upper wall and to the anchors. I remembered almost every move from fourteen years before. I remembered how the crux hold had felt so biting and painful and how I had over gripped to insure I wouldn’t take the whip and I remembered being incredibly pumped by the time I arrived at the jugs below the anchors. This time as I clipped the anchors and lowered down I thought about all the climbs that lay between that first lead and now; the hundreds of pitches I had taken the sharp end on and the dozens of climbing areas I had been to. Each hold led to the next. I had come full circle 14 years later, to the roots of my climbing. The first impression had been a good one.