Many people have a fear of heights. Terry Prachett’s prodigal wizard Rinceweed wisely feared the ground. After all, it’s the falling and landing on hard ground that’s the worrisome part.
Not quite what you want to be thinking of as you eye the 45-foot-high Tata climbing wall at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation complex in Dhaula Kuan, Delhi. So, instead I try to think of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and their (successful) quests to conquer the heights.
Bitten by a similar bug, I’ve wound up here seeking adventure, ready for a taste of climbing. Also known as ‘wall climbing’, this phenomenon is becoming an increasingly popular way to add a dash of adrenaline to otherwise routine urban lives. It’s safe, it’s fun; but is it easy?
Time to find out
Standing on firm ground and looking up, it’s simple to plot a route straight to the top. It is only when you’re halfway up that you realise how just complex the situation really is.
Hands go numb, eyes sting with sweat, legs get weak and shaky, and gravity seems intent upon pulling you down. Trust me, wall climbing is nothing like climbing your everyday ladder.
If you are a rookie like me, you’ll find that just the excitement of trying something new gets you to the halfway mark; quickly surmounting obstacles and feeling heroic. But as the initial burst of adrenaline fizzes out, so does the euphoria. And then what you really need is something that can only come with consistent practice.
Till that comes, there you are, stuck like a limpet halfway up the wall, incapable of further movement. No amount of will power can convince jammed legs to move when they’ve decided to say no. And there’s no point looking to the shaky hands for assistance, or to sweaty fingers for a steady grip.
Tired body, stumped mind
If the physical problems weren’t enough, halfway-up the number of available steps also decrease, making it harder to plot a way onward. Confronted with this untimely pressure, so close and yet so far from the summit, exhaustion makes you start thinking about quitting.
A tingling sense of fear begins to creep in. At the back of your head, you’re aware of the safety measures in place to prevent your skull from cracking, but it’s hard to be convinced when faced with the prospect of a 3-storey fall.
I can’t summarise the thoughts that raced through the mind at the time. All I know is that the rapid reasoning brought me to a single conclusion. Convinced, I let go and swung loose on the rope and harness that safely brought me down. But all this time I just kept looking up — my summit was not attained; my body failed to keep up with what my mind aspired to attain.
The thing about highs
Five minutes back on the ground, and even as the feeling was still returning to my numb limbs, I started plotting my return for a second attempt. After all, that’s the indescribable lure of heights, the very fact that they are there is reason enough to climb. The good part is that instead of just admiring the mountains on your calendars, you can go attempt your own peak in the city.