Department of English

Spring 2006 Edition

Rock or Trail

Whitney Barlow
Expository 1010 1st place

I, as many others, love looking out the window of the car as I drive up the canyon. There are so many amazing things to look at. There are the tall trees, wildlife, roaring streams, and I never know if around the next corner I’ll see a waterfall bursting from the rocks. As the elevation gets higher, the familiar feeling of clogged ears comes back, and then I begin to slow the car and pull off to the side of the road. I’m here, but to do what? This is a question many are faced with as they reach their destination in the canyons. A choice between a nice heart-pumping hike, or the thrill of a climb. While both hiking and climbing provide a chance to be outdoors and find the peace and solitude that comes from being there, climbing adds a sense of thrill not found in hiking.

Both hikers and climbers love the outdoor mountain air. The feeling in the mountains is so free and relaxing. They find themselves above the pollution of city air and breathing in the fresh scent of pine trees and mountain plants. They also both enjoy just being outdoors, and being able to get a little dirt on them without anyone caring. They don’t have to worry about how they look or who will be seeing them. Almost all hikers or climbers find the mountains as a place to go to find solitude and peace. Still the question remains, which activity is better: hiking or climbing?

Hiking is a great activity to get the heart pumping and the legs burning. One can hike all day or just for an hour. While hiking, you have the chance of running into a variety of wildlife, ranging from moose and deer, down to squirrels and chipmunks. Hiking can also open a world of new sights and destinations. Hikers may choose a trail because it leads them to an old Indian ruin, or an amazing waterfall. They may choose a trail simply for the excitement of finding out where it will take them. All along the hike though, they will be seeing breathtaking scenes of the beauty nature provides. A vista filled with pine, aspen, oak, and maple trees may open out in front of the hiker. Then around the next bend they may be hiking through the thin walls of a canyon, just hoping that the mountain doesn’t decide to swallow them up as they are hiking through.

When the hikers have finally made it to the end of their hike they will be surrounded by amazing views on every side. There will be nothing but crisp, clean air above them, and the sun shining down with its brilliant rays. Everywhere the hikers look they will be surrounded by the natural beauty of the earth. At the top of the hike the hikers will find complete solitude from the rest of the world. They can sit up there for hours thinking through any problem that they might have with nothing but the buzz of nature behind them. Once they have finished their thinking and soul searching, it is time to head back down the trail and back to reality.

Now, hiking seems like the ideal activity to do up in the mountains, but there is one better. It is rock climbing. Rock climbing provides the same beauties of nature as hiking, yet is also includes unmatchable thrill and excitement. Any climber would tell you that she would much rather be scaling a wall then walking up a trail. There is a certain thrill that comes from climbing that cannot be felt as one is hiking up a trail. To start climbing, the climber first needs the right kind of shoes, a harness, hooks, and ropes. Once they have the gear packed and get up the mountain, it is time to get all set up. It is time to unload the gear and send the first climber up the wall to mark the trail for everyone else. Climbing is a great sport for beginners all the way up to the very best. At one location, a single rock face can provide several different climbs with different difficulty levels.

Once a climber has begun her climb it is only her working to get to the top of the rock. Even though she has a belayer below her for safety precautions, it is only her, and the strength that she has, to enable her to conquer the rock and get to the top. As the climber is working up the mountainside, there is a certain thrill and excitement that comes from not knowing if her next handhold is going to be strong enough or if it will shatter, leaving her just hanging on with one hand. Then once the climber has grabbed back on, she is stuck looking around, stumped as to where her next step up is going to be. After a very long reach and a few shaky moments, she finally finds the right foot hole and is able to keep going.

Just like hiking, there are chances for solitude as one is climbing up the mountainside. While climbing, a climber can think through any problem and use that energy to help her make it up the face of the mountain. Finally, after all that strength and exertion, she makes it to the top. There is no excitement to match the feeling of accomplishment the climber feels when she can kiss the anchor and stand atop a face knowing what task she has just defeated. She can look around and, just like the hiker, enjoy all the natural beauty that the earth has to offer. The view from the top of the rock seems much more majestic and beautiful than it does from the top of any trail. Once the climber has soaked in the beauty from the top, it is time to go back down. Unlike hiking, however, it does not take any work to get back down. The climber simply has to sit back into her harness and just guide herself as the rope takes her down.

I have been a participant in both hiking and climbing; however, I have never received the thrill and excitement of climbing during any of the many hikes I have gone on. As I have climbed up different mountain sides, the same excitement is always hanging in the air. 

At the base of the climb, I sit down to put on my climbing shoes, and even though they seem too small, I know they are a key part to having a successful climb. Then I stand up and put my harness on, realizing that it is the only thing saving my life if I slip and fall while reaching for my next hand hold. Next, I tie the rope through the harness and clip a little chalk pack around my waist to help keep my hands dry and ready to get me to the top. My friend Brady also puts a harness around his waist and ties the same rope to his harness. He is going to belay me as I climb to make sure the rope catches if I fall. Now that we are both geared up it is time to climb.

The first few moves are easy and quick, and I soon find myself half way up the mountain looking back on what I have just accomplished. Then I find myself in a tough situation, the next handhold is just inches from my reach and there are no real good footholds to get me there. As I begin to look around, I see a little lip in the rock that is just barely thicker then my thumbnail. Luckily, I have my climbing shoes on and the grip of the shoes allows me to stand on the lip and reach the next handhold. I am able to keep going after that, but then I find a faulty foothold and I begin to fall. Even though I only fall about a half foot, my heart begins to pound and my hands get clammy as the few thoughts that my life might be over have time to flash through my head. The rope catches and I find myself just hanging there. I use the adrenaline from the fall to get me up the rest of the mountain. Once I reach the top I kiss the anchor, stand up to see what I had accomplished, and take in the beauty that surrounds me. I watch a hawk soar above me for a few minutes and see a stream way below go rushing by. In that moment, I feel peace and excitement take over my body as I begin my descent back down to where Brady is waiting. After that, I did a few more climbs and then packed everything up with Brady so that I could go home and tell my roommates the adventures of my day.

Even though hiking is a great outdoor activity, I feel sorry for all the hikers that will never get to experience the thrill of climbing. They will never be able to know the excitement of grabbing the wrong handhold, or the peace of being at the top of the rock by themselves as they look down at what they have just accomplished. So, I invite all hikers to leave their hiking boots in the closet and grab a pair of climbing shoes and experience what living is really all about.