Guest Post: How a ‘Fraidy Cat, Out of Shape Old(er) Man With a Fear of Heights Became a Rock Climber [with the aid of Keith].

by Kent Wietharn

About 5 years ago, my wife started taking my son Kas (age 9 at the time) to Cliffhangers (now Junior Team) on Saturday mornings. Cliffhangers was an introductory climbing session for grade school age kids, lasting about 2 hours. Peak Experiences was 20 minutes each way, so it would take up most of Saturday morning for her. I was usually up to something else on those mornings, like mowing the lawn, or trimming and watering. Eventually, it became my turn to be the chauffeur, so I took a book or magazine along with me and sat down on the bench while the kids climbed or played climbing-related games.

I would pay attention to Kas to make sure he was following directions and behaving well, but I did not pay much attention to the climbing walls.  I recall that they just seemed to be a confusing jumble of holds and colored tape all over the place with no apparent order.  The staff was pleasant and helpful, but was focused on teaching and managing the kids as well as keeping them safe. So I felt secure that Kas was in good hands and put my nose back in my book each Saturday morning.

One day after Kas had been going for some time, he asked for an auto-locking belay device called a Gri-Gri. Being safety-conscious myself (i.e., afraid of falling) and somewhat protective of my son in the hands of another youth, I thought this was a very good feature to have. So I purchased the Gri-Gri thingy at the front desk utilizing the member 20% discount while Kas was climbing. I was proud of myself that I now had a cool present to give him on his next birthday in a couple of months that I knew he wanted.

To my dismay, I found out a week or so later that Kas had gotten his mother to buy him one for his very next Cliffhangers session.  I took the Gri-Gri in its original unopened box and the receipt back to the front desk to return it for my money back. The crafty facilities manager, Keith Morton, explained patiently to me that unfortunately he could not take the Gri-Gri back, because it was a safety device, and that since it had left their possession they could not be responsible for its resale.  “But,” I said, “it hasn’t even been taken out of its box.” Still, he was firm in refusing my return so I became the proud owner of a new Gri-Gri.

My thoughts turned to what to do with this device – trade it, sell it somewhere else, or keep it for Kas to use when his first one wears out. I didn’t know anyone to trade it or sell it to at the time. And if you inspect the Gri-Gri you will soon learn that they don’t wear out very fast. My next idea was – “Hey, why don’t start climbing with it? That way you and Kas will have something fun to do together.” So I decided to try it that very week and soon became hooked on climbing despite my age, weight and fear limitations. I’ve overcome (actually, let’s say managed) my fear of heights.  I’ve also lost 45 pounds and have kept it off for the past 5 years.  It is both fun and challenging to figure out the moves on a climbing route.  I’ve made many friends there at Peak and have even gone on outdoor excursions with some of them. Climbing has become my favorite hobby.  I’d recommend it to adults of any age or fitness level.




About Peak Experiences

Love rock climbing? Me too. Peak is a giant box of climbing and fun, located in Midlothian Virginia, and has been around since 1998. Stronger Than Yesterday is our online resource for all things climbing, in Richmond and out in the wider world.
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