It’s 8:40 PM on 28 Nov and I got a call from Mom. Though it was the usual timing, the tone was very unusual. She asked me where I went today and where that picture was from [referring to the image from the bouldering session by Avathi Outdoors I did earlier today]. I replied very casually that I wanted to try bouldering and gave it a shot today. She immediately took off saying, “Don’t you have any respect for your life? Do you wanna just throw it away by doing random risky stuff in the jungles?”
If it was any other time, perhaps, I would’ve retorted with a “This was nothing” remark. After all, I’ve been exploring the wild for over 8 years now. Hiked on difficult trails and rode my bike on many “You should be stupid to ride on this” roads. But I chose to stay mum instead. Not because she won’t understand my explanation, but because I partially agree with what she said.
Bouldering isn’t for the faint-hearted. Doesn’t matter how hardcore a trekker you are or your fitness levels, bouldering is a very different ball game. The key difference being, what’s under your feet.
In Hiking there is a huge mountain under your feet and though you encounter riskier ridges, you still have feet on the ground. Likewise, doesn’t matter how difficult a road (or lack of it), your feet are on the ground when you’re riding a bike. But bouldering is all about, finding a stable position, on a near-vertical rock, with your entire body resting on just your fingers (sometimes just two of them engaged) and having the mental strength to let go of that stable position to find another one and climb up the rock.
I have been hiking so frequently that it is very comfortable for me now. I can scale a lot of peaks with ease and will sweat a little but finish the hike for the remainder of them. So I was looking for something challenging. As they say,
You haven’t experienced the rawness of an adventure if you haven’t spent time on the edge
I did river rafting in Dandeli a few weeks ago. Which wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. So I turned to Rock climbing. I remember Avathi outdoors from their Instagram page and booked a session with them.
The bouldering sessions happened across two sites. Both in the Avathi Hills near Nandi Hills, Bangalore. Site #1 had 3 trails with varying difficulty. Mahesh (Founder of Avathi Outdoors) and Srivats gave us an initial briefing and tips to navigate the boulder.
Trail #1 At Site #1- Tricky Start
The first trail appeared easy. All of my hikes involve a bit of rock climbing. So looking at the 10-12 ft boulder, I thought it should be easier to climb. So I hopped onto the stone, placed my feet on a crevice, comfortable stance and climbed a little more. The near-vertical face was the easiest part. The curvature had tiny ledges that could accommodate 2 or maybe 3 fingers. So one had to pull themselves up using that grip and place the entire load on the right leg and pull your left foot up.
I jumped back onto the crash pads a bunch of times and couldn’t make it to the top without taking the shortcut (easier climb) via the crevice. Letting go is such a hard thing to do, especially when you’re hanging from a ledge. As Mahesh puts it, it’s pretty hard to trust yourself when you’re hanging by the support of your toes and fingers. Our mind pushes us to not let go and hold on tight because that’s the safest thing to do at that time. Our brains always optimize for our safety.
Trail #2 At Site #1- Learning To Let Go
Trail #2 was even trickier. I attempted this 4 or 5 times and could reach the top only in the last attempt. The climb starts with a large enough ledge. However, as fate has it, you can’t use the entire ledge because it will be difficult to climb with your entire feet on the ledge. So even though there was enough land, I had to place just three of my left leg fingers.
Mahesh showed us some techniques and demonstrated the mistakes we were doing. The second step here was another comfortable ledge. It got tricky after this. I had to rest my weight on the right foot, which is resting on just my toes. Then, slowly making my left hand crawl up the crevice, place my right hand on a pretty much non-existent ledge and lift myself. I gave up at this point in every attempt until the last one.
I was too afraid to let go and I was too scared of the fall. Mahesh suggested trying the seemingly easy third trail and coming back to this later. The third one was relatively much easier. A near-vertical start for the toes but a simple stairway climb later on. I did this twice and came back to trail #2.
I told myself that I will let go and trust my right foot grip. Got steps #1 & #2 right, again at the same spot, my mind started pushing me to get down. My legs started shaking, but I took a deep breath, removed my right hand to chalk up, held the tiny ledge again and let my firmly supported left leg go. It was a simple crawl after this step and I felt so good after I reached the top.
In a way, it was a decision between what’s safe and what you actually wanted to do. Isn’t it true with life too?
Site #2- The 25 ft Boulders- Never Look Down
After trying out the three trails and successfully climbing 2 of the three, I moved to site 2 of Avathi Bouldering session. These are massive 25 ft boulders. The trail seems to have a good foothold but as I realized later, it isn’t as easy as it looks.
In both the trails, the journey was something similar. You just have to trust yourself that you can do it. Otherwise, there is no way you can climb up. Especially when you’re high up there. I initially thought trail #1 would be a cakewalk.
The start was tricky but good, a very comfortable trail in the middle. However, I realized the challenge when I faced the bottleneck. Above me was a flat rock, so climbing straight up wasn’t possible. It’s almost like climbing the low roofs in my house. I had to push myself outside, place my feet very firmly. At this point, I would break a bone for sure if I fell. And there is no way I can climb down from there.
So contrary to everything my mind suggested, the only way was up. I took a deep breath, slowly placing my feet on a firm ledge, without looking down, I lifted myself and my face was finally above the bottleneck. But it wasn’t over yet. The trickier part was to pull me using tiny ledges above the bottleneck. I stretched my right leg to the black spot (where the trail #1 arrow ends in the above image). Another deep breath and pulled up and reached the top. Perhaps the riskiest trail of all trails in the session today. But I felt really good after I finished the climb.
Worth The Risk?
I was so excited about finishing the session and I told myself that I’d go back for another one soon. But I’ve been thinking about the thoughts I had at the bottleneck spot for the rest of the evening. It was literally a do or die situation and am thankful that my body didn’t give up. I believe that death is inevitable but pushing myself to do riskier activities that accelerate it is something that puzzled me.
So if you ask me if I’d do it again. Maybe I will or maybe I won’t. Only time will tell. But I am glad that I tried something new, won over my fears and came out alive. And for the most part, I guess that’s all that matters.
That’s all I had to share today. Thanks for sticking through till the end.
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