Most of my life has been consumed with avoiding situations where I’m hanging 30 feet in the air. Fingertips lodged in a thin crack of a granite cliff, feet scrambling for a foothold.
Yet here I am. My arms are spaghetti. Pressing my face against the straight-up surface of one of the many jutting crags at Q’emiln Riverside Park in Post Falls, Idaho.
It’s hot out. I’m working hard. But that’s not why sweat is dripping down my face. It’s the terror, the sheer damn terror.
Finally, by contorting my legs into some impossible yoga pose, I find a spot to perch my feet. That’s when my leg started shaking — an uncontrollable spasm tapping my foot to an inaudible beat.
“We call that ‘the Elvis,’” Phil Birdgers yells from below.
Birdgers, the events coordinator for Mountain Gear, is my tour guide. He’s praising the still sorta-secret rock climbing routes in Q’emiln for their broad variety, easy access, and safe approaches.
He’s my adviser, too, explaining that — thank goodness — you don’t really need arm muscles for elementary rock climbing. Your legs do most the work.
He’s my master tactician, spotting the footholds and handholds for my ascent and calling them out like a game of Twister. Wedge your right hand into that crack. Swing your left foot out to the side.
Most importantly, he’s the one holding the belay rope “piano-wire tight.” So when my grip slips, when my arms fail, when my legs stumble, I don’t fall an inch. I just hang there, suspended like Wile E. Coyote in mid-air.
Technically, riding my bike to work — at least with the way I veer into traffic — is more dangerous.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t leave the rock with a swagger, smug about accomplishing such a manly feat of hyper-masculinity. I pay little attention to the next rock over, where a group of giggling pre-teen girls have just done the exact same thing.
For Spokanites, this is probably the easiest and closest place for outdoor rock climbing. While Minnehaha lacks the range and number of climbs of Q’emiln, the fact that it’s located right next to Esmeralda Golf Course means this is the go-to location for many Spokane climbers. Leave work and be climbing by 5:30.
ROCKS OF SHARON
While it takes a 20-minute walk south of Dishman Hills to reach the Rocks of Sharon, this climb comes with one big selling point: It’s high. Very high. Where the rocks of most area climbing spots are “one pitch” — the height of one length of climbing rope, the Rocks of Sharon take two full ropes to scale.
A relatively newly developed area in Riverside State Park, McLellan sports a large number of relatively short climbs, with names like “The Lost Wall” and “Pack Rat Cave.” McLellan offers intermediate and advanced climbs and also “bouldering” — close-to-the-ground climbs that use a mat instead of a rope for protection.
Most of the climbing rocks around here are made of granite. But at Castle Rock, a collection of about 15 very steep routes along the west side of the Coeur d’Alene river, the rock is limestone. Seasoned climbers know the difference — in texture, in climbing strategy — that a different sort of rock makes.