50 feet, 10 dollars and 5 minutes of Heaven (things to do on James Island near Charleston)

Last month I had a defining moment. Got laid off with little explanation, a smile and no hand-shake. So what better way to celebrate then taking on a 50 feet rock climbing wall at James Island state park despite the fact I’m terrified of heights?

The truth is I always wanted to do this. You know we all have the “10 places to see or 10 things do before we die”. So I drove myself to the James Island County Park which claims to have the highest outdoor rock climbing wall in South Carolina. See already on my way to breaking records!

It was Tuesday afternoon and that was a very good choice. There was nobody around but 2 staffers busy laying out some new climbing routes. David – 6 feet tall, dark curly hair, boasting a slender body fit as one might expect, smiled and came to greet me. “This is a good sign” I said to myself.

I signed a waiver, filled out a short form and paid the 10 dollars fee. That’s right only 10 dollars for all you can climb! David handed me the harness and lead me to the rock were he immediately proceeded to lay out the ropes. Things were moving too fast. My heart pounded heavily and I started to regret my decision. “I’m a little nervous” I said “haven’t done this before. Any pointers?” “Keep your hands above the feet and don’t look down. Don’t worry; I put you on the kiddy run. It’s the easiest around” replied David. Great! The vote of confidence made me feel much better.

I was hoping there was some rule against an emotionally disturbed rookie climber that would have put an end to this. No luck. David brought me back to reality “When you’re ready say ‘On Belay’”. ‘On Belay’, what the heck that means? So without much of a fanfare or an audience I started my quest to bravery and self-esteem.

My plan was simple; keep moving, maintain at all times a 3 points contact with the rock (got this tip from a Romanian friend 15 years ago…finally got to put it to use) and, as my guide just advised, don’t look down. It was going unexpectedly well when my left sleeve got caught in a jug. I jerked my arm furiously few times trying to escape. All of the sudden I felt very tired. For some reason all I could think about was that famous guy who had to cut his wrist to save himself. Luckily for me and my wrist I finally managed to let go. Back on track.

Minutes later I reached the summit (yeah baby, “THE SUMMIT”!). All along I had visions of myself grandiosely declaring my victory with something profound and inspiring like “Veni, Vidi, Vici” or at least a Rocky style fists pumping. Yet all I could come up with was a pitchy “How do I get down from here?” “Grab the rope coming from your harness and lean backwards” David said “I’ll take it from there”. Easy for you to say, buddy. You know I skipped the “trust thy co-workers and let thrust thyself into their hands” team-building class. With not much of a choice I reluctantly grabbed the rope, closed my eyes and slowly squinted down at a 90 degrees angle. I’m sure was a pretty sight to see. The descend was a gentle slide down thanks to my quiet guide below.

The whole thing took little over 5 minutes. I ended up grasping for air, bruised on my knees and elbows and so exhausted that I could barely move my arms to remove the harness. But now I know what Heaven must feel like.

Did I mention they are open year around?