The kid is 10 feet above my head, and grinning madly. The ledge she’s standing on is barely wide enough for her too-big-for-her-feet boots, her toes peek over the lip of the ledge. She’s holding a tree for support.
“What now!’ she calls down.
Indeed. What now?
Rock Rimmon in Manchester is not considered much of a destination hike. Graffiti and glass often litter the “summit” of the cliff, which rises 450-feet above sea level. But it’s near my house and Sunday was fine and I needed to climb something – anything – to shake off the cobwebs of my recent surgery. The boy was off to a violin lesson, but the girl was jonsing to climb something. So off we went.
She’d been begging me to take her to our local climbing wall for weeks now, but that was still a few weeks away. So instead we explored the cliff area of the Rock, a 150-foot fairly shear wall of granite that makes up the east side of Rock Rimmon.
On our previous hikes to Kearsarge and Dickey-Welsh, Janelle had loved the rock scrambling the most. So, today, we took our time exploring what rock hiking meant. We talked about finding flat surfaces, about reading ledges, looking for toe and footholds, being able to read the surface of a ledge and picking routes. I had her take her gloves off and get close to the cliffs, feel different hand holds and had her squeeze her fingers into some cracks to test her weight to see how it felt.
No way we were going to attempt a free climb up that cliff, but we made our way around to the north-east side of the cliff, where the grades were more moderate and roots and footholds more defined. We tried a couple of routes, but neither of us could safely scramble for more than a few feet without equipment. In a couple spots I spotted her as she climbed 5 or 6 feet up the rock, finding holds and generally have a great time.
We moved around to an area just off a col in the rock with maybe 20 feet of wall and ledges below the top.
“This looks interesting,” she said and heaved herself up to a small foot hold about three feet off the ground.
Then the spider monkey appeared. Before the words, “Don’t climb out of my reach” left my lips, she had, of course, climbed out of my reach.
“Janelle!” I barked. She turned her head to look down at me, my arms outstretched. She was flat against the rock, feet secure, her hands didn’t shake. She waited for me to give her permission, to apply what we had learned. To climb. “See that tree to your left. Test it for support, then use it to get to that ledge.”
“Ok!” The ledge she was on was not a cliff. If she slipped, she would not fall, she’d slide. So, I moved under her, secured my own footing so I’d be able to stop a slide and waited. She tested the tree, finding a new foot hold closer to the ledge, then threw her weight on it and lifted herself to the flat surface.
I breathed again. “Awesome!” she said. “Come up.” But I was too heavy to make such a scramble, the hand and foot holds she found for herself were too small for me.
“I can’t,” I said.
“Stay there, I’m coming around from the top.”
I scramble around the ledge to a more defined path that leads to the area above her head, then come down to where I can reach her.
“Hi,” she says chipperly as I swing my feet over the ledge and slide down to where she waits. “Ready?”
“Ok, go, but this time I need to hang on to you, ok?”
The remaining part of the climb is not far, another 6 feet, but it is steep.
“Sure,” she says. But she doesn’t need me. Even with my hands at her waist, she scrambles up to the top without hesitation and sure of foot.
We high-five at the top, and as my heart rate goes down she says, “That was the best thing I’ve ever done!”
It pains me to scold her, to break that smile and that joy, but I have to say something.
I crouch down to eye level and say, “Listen, Janelle, you are incredibly strong and can accomplish anything you put your mind too. That was a great climb. But you also scared me. You’re still new at this and the way to be safe is to take it slow. Promise me you won’t do that again without getting an ok from me.”
This deflates her a bit and she lowers her head.
“Promise me,” I repeat.
“I promise,” she says. Then, after a moment, she asks, “Can you take a picture of what I just climbed?”
We end the afternoon eating M&Ms at the top, watching our city, picking out buildings and back yards we know. I sit there watching this nine-year-old, and consider all that she has the potential to accomplish and wonder about the weight of the responsibility of helping her achieve some of that potential. I wonder if I’m up for it.
We take the easy way down