Meet Outdoor Educator for Venture Outdoors Summer Camps: Otavio Wilkinson-Baldauf
by: Suni Lynn Lee
I’m not sure which was more intimidating, the view from the top, looking down, or the view from the bottom looking up! Either way I was secretly happy that I had decided not to accept our trip leader’s offer of allowing me to try my hand at climbing up the sheer rock wall. Knowing I was taking the coward’s way out and feeling a little sheepish about it, I reminded myself that I was there to photograph the event, not to participate in it.
I had volunteered to photograph Venture Outdoors’ natural rock climbing event in Forbes State Forest. While the group leaders rigged up the climbing ropes, I struck up a conversation with participant Myra Aronson, who told me that although she had previous rock climbing experience, it had been about five years since she had last climbed.
When I asked why she had started climbing, she said, “I used to have a photo of a rock climber in New Paltz on my wall forever. I always wanted to try it. Finally, when I was traveling around exploring the U.S., I came across some climbers somewhere in the Four Corners area. I asked them if I could jump in. They must have thought I was nuts. After that experience, I went to every rock gym I found to get some skills.”
Her enthusiasm made me want to reconsider the idea of trying a climb. I glanced down at the cliffs again. Nope, I was still a big, fat chicken!
I asked Myra if rock climbing had ever scared her, and if so, how she had overcome her fear. She said she always feels comfortable on belay, which is a safety technique used to protect climbers should they fall off the rock face.
But then she added, “Doubt is worse than fear. If you doubt yourself, then it doesn’t matter if you’re 5 feet off the ground or 500. Rock climbing forces you to find your confidence.”
After the ropes had been rigged for the climbs, the trip leader led us to the trail that wound down to the base of the cliffs. The participants all seemed a little nervous, but Myra volunteered to be the first to try an ascent. Although I wanted to photograph her first climb, I walked away. I knew she hadn’t climbed in a long while, and I felt she might want to reestablish her bearings without worrying about having her photograph taken.
Later, after everyone had scaled one or more of the various rock faces, I photographed Myra as she tackled the most challenging route up the cliff. She didn’t seem at all nervous or scared. Instead, she seemed keenly focused and determined. I don’t think she was aware of anything except the rock in front of her.
To reach the top, Myra had to climb up onto a rock ledge, a tricky maneuver that clearly would require both physical strength and balance to achieve. From my vantage point, the ledge looked smooth as polished granite, with only a thin line of a crack offering any handholds. I watched as Myra worked to the right and then to the left, testing various combinations of foot- and handholds, searching for a route to the top. For long moments at a time, with one hand she hugged herself against the rock while stretching her other hand up, over the ledge, feeling for a handhold.
Finally, she found what she was looking for and pulled herself up onto the ledge. As she brought herself into a fully upright position, I caught the look of triumph and satisfaction on her face, an expression which I think visually defined exactly how she must have been feeling at that moment.
To finish the climb, Myra reached up and placed her hand on the carabineer rigged to the climbing ropes. Then she beamed a smile down at the trip leader before turning and matter-of-factly repelling back down the cliff.
After she had conquered the rocks, I noticed a distinct change in Myra’s attitude. Before the climb began, she had seemed quiet and somewhat shy. Now, her face was glowing from physical exertion but also I think with an element of self confidence and pride in having achieved what she had set out to achieve.
At the end of the day, I took one last look down the cliff face. The fear I had felt when I first looked over the edge was still with me. Myra had told me that rock climbing forces you to find your confidence. I don’t know if I will ever try rock climbing to conquer my fear of heights, but Myra has inspired me to find a way to challenge my fear rather than continuing to accept defeat by default.
To sign up for a Venture Outdoors rock climbing adventure, go to the Venture Outdoors Activities Calendar.