Rock Climbing at Skytop and a stay at the beautiful Mohonk Mountain House

Because I believe it is important to always push yourself I embarked on a personal challenge to face my fear of falling yet again.  I had such rewards when I starting biking for the same reason I wanted to continue to explore my fear and the ways to challenge it.  13 months ago I decided to attempt indoor rock climbing.  I knew this was going to scare the ever loving shit out of me.  But hey I think attempting some that really pushes you at least once a year is a good thing.  You can learn and grow so much when faced with fear, adversity and new experiences.
Arriving to Chelsea Piers Rock Wall for the first time, as expected, my anxiety was off the charts.  I was seriously questioning my decision to do this as I looked up at the 25′ wall studded with colorful objects that were  my only source of propelling  up.  I tried to breath and relax (thank you yoga) in order to  just not freak out and abandon the mission.  I had warned the instructor right off the bat that I had a serious fear of falling and to please bear with any inappropriate over reactions like shaking or tears.  He assured me I would be fine but it did little to assuage my fears.
After my basic lesson I approached the wall and began to climb.  Adrenalin propelled me up the wall at a surprisingly fast pace. All of a sudden I was at the top.  Wow I did it!.  My instructor yelled from the ground “you did great not just let go and I’ll lower you”.    LET GO are you fucking serious!  I look over my should and see the 25′ drop and my hands grip even tighter to the colored hand holds. I was paralyzed for what must have been some time because in the back of my mind I heard his voice continuously coaxing me to release my grip, that he had me.  As exhaustion began to set in I knew if I did not let go voluntarily I would simple loose my grip and fall. So I slowly release one hand at a time place it on the rope attached to my harness.  He is kind and lowers me very slowly but that did not help the feeling of instant nausea that rushed over me as the sensation of falling cascaded over me as I was being lowered.
I got down and released my white knuckle grip from the rope.  I so relieved it was over,  flushed and slightly sweetly, anxiety born tears began to roll down my face.  I could tell the instructor felt bad and I assured him I was fine and to ignore the tears.  If I give them any attention it just validates them.  I went and got some water and …..of course did it again.
I have continued to climb indoors 1-2 times a month for the past year and made a good amount of progress  in my strength and technique as well as my fear.  I can now be lowered down at what I would have considered lighting speed with no overwhelming waves of nausea and I progressed to a decent level 5.7 climber. On the year anniversary of my first climb I decided it was time for this years challenge….bringing the climbing outdoors.
Luckily there is excellent climbing in the New Paltz area 2 hours outside of the city. In planning this outdoor adventure I needed to find a place to spend the night and my research lead me to the Mohonk Mountain  House.  The MMH has private climbing on their property called Sky Top able climbable only by guests of the house with a guide. This was very appealing to me as I could simply meet the guide and would not have to bother with any other transportation. The House got great reviews on its beauty and also had a spa…. despite the heavy price tag I was sold.
Before I detail the actual climbing I must mention how stunning the property actually was.  It was like something out of a movie.  I will include pictures of the property and views. I highly recommended it for a relaxing weekend out of the city.
The climb——the first thing I will say is indoor climbing and outdoor climbing are not even in the same ballpark.  I was wholly unprepared for this adventure.
I meet the guide at the House’s information center and we take a short walk to a shed where all the equipment is kept.  He asked about my climbing experience and I proceed to tell him about my fears and why I am doing this as well as the level of climbing I do at the gym. He asks if I want to do something easy to start or just go for the challenge.  Strangely, I was feeling pretty confident and did not want to take the easy way so I agree to the challenge.  He gives me a  helmet and he grabs the ropes and gear and we head off to the climb called Gray Face a 5.5 climb. I think in my head a 5.5 that does not sound like much of a challenge.
Much to my chagrin my feeling of confidence was swiftly replaced by fear and anxiety just minutes into the hike to Gray Face. I have never hiked before but did not think anything of it. I’m in good shape so had no reason to be concerned…..wrong.  This hike was a menagerie of places to slip, fall or twist an ankle.  Traversing huge boulders up and down hidden in the trees there were snakes, tons of bugs and poison ivy.  By the time I made it to Gray Face I already felt this death trap of a  hike was more than enough of a challenge for me and was prepared to call it quits.
Of course I just try and focus on my lesson on the equipment needed and how to use it.  After my lesson on the equipment placed in the rock to attach to I was really ready to call it quits….Teeny tiny pieces of metal jammed into the rock..that’s it.  No nicely colored pieces of tape to tell me when to put my hands and feet, no cup like colorful holds jutting out from the wall.  Just tiny pieces of metal holding my lifeline rope into place, me and the wall…..
I approach Gray Face with much trepidation and find my first foot hold.  I use the word hold very loosely as what I am place my foot on is a 1″ wide ridge that sticks out ever so slightly from the rock.  I scan my arms up and down the slab in order to feel for something to grab onto.   There is nothing.  Gray Face is aptly named.  Nothing but a big gray mass of rock, parts indistinguishable.
I move up a mere 4 feet before I loose my footing and fall.  Not the best way to start and defiantly not the best way to fall.  Since the rope is very stretchy to absorb impact  and I had hardly climbed my fall was a slow 3 foot face/body slide down the rock until my foot hit the floor.  I had sheer terror wash over me imagining falling this way down the  80′ of rock in this fashion (which would never happen but reason is not my friend). I can already feel the tears building.  I get back on the slab and try again pushing on to the first crux.  Here I  have to jam my arm into a big crack in the rock in the wall in order to proceed.  The crack is filled with spiders and is very unforgiving on the skin.  This is a technique I have never practiced and can’t quite get.  I somehow get past this part  but on the next move my foot gets completely stuck in the crack in the rock I had jammed it to.  Overwhelming panic.  I pulled and pulled my leg with all my strength while barely having anything to hold onto.  I saying “I’m stuck, MY FOOT IS STUCK”  Tears begin to flow.  After 5 attempts of yanking my leg my foot is freed.. heart pounding, hand  bleeding,  covered in dirt and sweat and tears. I manage to eek out another move until  I reach the second crux. At this point I just can’t go on.  I have nothing left and tell the guide I need to come down.  Only about 1/3 of the way to the top I could not continue.
Reaching the ground I get water, dry my tears and breathe.  I compose myself and start to take pictures as distraction to help me relax and try and enjoy the fabulous views.
Once composed  I turn to  my guide and let him know I  am ready to try it again. I came this far I want to get to the top.
I approach the rock with more determination.  I will not let my fear win.   I start the climb successfully making it to the first crux.  I do the hand jam move (barely) and do not let my foot get  stuck.  I move up to the second crux trying to steady my breath and nerves.  I’m reaching and reaching trying to find something to grab onto.  Finally a small crack, then the hard part getting my foot in the only hold about hip height (again thank you yoga). Got it! and yes passed the 2nd crux.  I was so happy and sooooo ready to come down, I did the hard part, I felt accomplished.  I looked up, about another 40′ to got, and was ready to get back on the ground feeling good, I did not let the fear win. I yelled I was ready to come down.  He replies “its all smooth sailing from here on keep going”.
I look at the long path ahead and really want to say enough is enough but I forge ahead.  Smooth sailing it was not but it was manageable.  Fear still ever present as the ground get’s further and further away. One move after the next I ascend to the end of the route! I did! I made it…let me the fuck down! Which is exactly what I yell down.  He replies look at the view.  View, VIEW??? Seriously dude do you think I care about the view.  I turn my head over my shoulder and take in the breathing view knowing at some point in the future I’ll be glad I looked and in the same motion said I was ready to come down.
Once back on the ground I was met with a high five and a compliment on my climbing the the last part with confidence.  I was happy, I did it.  Adrenalin and endorphins raging my adventure was not yet over.  My guide decided to bring me on an even more treturous hike on the way back insisting the views were worth it.  If I had not done what I just did I never would have made this hike.  It was insane, huge rocks to climb, extremely narrow passageways, nothing was flat or seemingly safe at all.  I kept a very myopic view never looking more than 2 feet ahead and finally made it back to the trail we started on.  He asked me would I ever try it again and I said don’t ask me now because my answer is NO FUCKING WAY
He was right, the views were perfect and picturesque.  I was thankful I did both the hike and the climb.
Once home in the city, where I belong, I felt very proud I did what I set out to do but very surprised and mildly disappointed at how scared I was and how challenging it was. I started to Google Skytop, Gray Face  and the property at Mohonk.  I uncovered some very interesting information which I am glad I did not have before I went (as I never would have gone) and made me feel better about the entire experience.  My search led me to a few articles about transitioning from indoor climbing to outdoor climbing.  I was happy to read the articles confirmed the two really are apples and oranges.  They suggested you have a skill set of being a 5.9 climber and knowing how to lead climb before making the transition.  They also suggested you climb 2-4 grades lower outdoors than indoors.  I am currently a 5.7 climber at best and do not know how to lead climb and I climbed a route only 2 grades lower than my indoor level.  If I had this information prior to going I would have posted for another year feeling I did not have the experience and skills needed. So all in all I am really glad that I went, really proud that with my limited skills and huge anxiety level I still manged to push through and climb to the top.
And lastly a special thanks to 123-694-336 for a gift funding the trip.