Tuesday, February 17, 2009
North Shore Rock Climbing
An hour's drive from downtown Honolulu and the North Shore opens up before us as we crest the hill past Schofield Army Barracks and wind our way down to Wailua. My buddy Miles and I are on our way to the rock-climbing wall at the end of the road, past Mokuleia and just before Ka'ena Point.
The old sugar mill still stands proudly just outside of the town, and we pass a couple of bikers who have pulled over to the side of the road to get a closer look.
The day is blustery and the swell is building; rain clouds threaten on the horizon but we are determined. It has been over five years since I've been up here, and i am looking forward to meeting my fear of heights again.
We approach Dillingham Airfield and find that a small village of movie-star trailers has cropped up next to the highway; they are filming the hit show "Lost" along this stretch of coastline. This explains the small traffic jam of rental cars up ahead as tourists park by the roadside and clamber to catch a glimpse of their favorite star.
We don't understand what all the fuss is about...I've not owned a TV for 7 years now and have not seen a single episode, while Miles sat next to Matthew Fox at the airport last month wondering why everyone was asking Mr Too-Handsome for his autograph; until his Mom figured out who it was when he told her the story later on...
Movie stars aside: today, we climb.
The security guard asks us if we're going to see any wild pigs back there as we hike past the movie set...we tell him that we'll be sure to bring him back one if any should cross our path. The trail is lush with overgrowth from the recent rains, and I would have walked right past the entrance had Miles not turned abruptly off the road and charged into the underbrush. It feels like we are walking thru the haunted fields of Children of the Corn and I almost eat mud a couple times but luckily keep my footing.
The hike takes about 45 minutes to scale the foothills below the cliffs before we emerge to the climbing site. Our fellow rock-climbing enthusiasts maintain the trail and the 20 or so top-rope climbs on a volunteer basis for all to enjoy. Everything is as I remembered from five years ago, ropes nicely tucked away on sticks that bear the name and difficulty rating of each climb.
We pick our way around a ledge to the warm-up climb Miles has in mind for us today, and the wind picks up ominously. The North Shore stretches away below us, the sound of the rolling surf a mile below crashes its way up the ravines and sounds almost as if the waves are breaking at our feet.
Miles runs me through all the basics of climbing again, and it starts to come back to me...in no time at all he is scaling the first wall, quickly hauling his lanky 6'1" frame up the side of the mountain, and I am belaying him back down as the first drops of rain kiss our faces.
There's no way that we came all the way up here for me not to climb, so I tie in quickly and pick my way to the bottom of the wall. The first segment is fairly simple, a crack with lots of hand-holds that I shimmy up easily enough. It feels good to be on the rock again.
The next segment, though, is a little tricker. The spitting rain has made the smooth rock surface slippery, and there are less hand-holds. Miles had made it look so easy! I breathe deeply and the path reveals itself, one hold at a time.
Three-quarters of the way up now and I make the mistake of looking down. I am maybe only 40 feet above Miles, but we have hiked halfway up the mountain to reach the rockface. My fear of heights knocks the breath out of my lungs as I look down to the ocean 500 feet below, and I start to wonder why I am clinging to the side of this mountain with the wind and rain starting to swirl.
I look to my right and spot a massive crack in the side of the rock face, thru which I can see what looks like another world on the other side...Lost World indeed! A few more deep breaths, and my attention is refocused on the 10 feet of rock face remaining between me and the top of my climb. I shift my weight, close my eyes, and let my hands search the rock for the next hold to bring me up....and in this way, I crawl inch by inch up those last ten feet to make it to the top.
How do you describe the feeling of dangling off the side of a cliff 500 feet up from the ocean laughing in the wind at your fear? You don't - you savor it.
As my feet touch terra firma at the base of the wall, my grin says it all. It is good to be back here.