I placed my hands on the rock not knowing that the next thirty feet would introduce me to a world where dirtbags are kings. The first clip, although seven feet off the ground, still had my arms shaking. In Richmond, even the shortest gains can have a lasting effect. This, my first lead climb, was no exception. It was early August 2012, and as the second bolt approached my hands turned chalk into paste. Clenching and focused, I slid the rope through the draw. The snapping gate was assuring yet I couldn’t rationalize what I was doing leaving Earth.
I worked the arete and managed to chalk back up as third bolt was passed. Would I have ever started climbing if it wasn’t for Richmond? It was my friends, Ben and Wade that had brought me here and sent me up the wall. The passion they showed for competing with gravity and granite had not struck me yet.
“Keep breathing,” Wade called out. I slid my hand into a wide horizontal crack on the arete. “And watch out for snakes.”
Ben laughed as he fed me some slack and fourth bolt was secured. I looked down to find hidden feet as I worked back onto the wall for the fifth bolt. Now, on the face, instinct took over. I fumbled a draw off my harness and slowly reached it out to the bolt hanger. Too tense to look down, I felt for the rope and made the clip. The swampy banks of the James weren’t helping and I shook my hands to cool off. I stretched my left hand up tapping for an edge or crack, or even some mortar that had leaked out. I pulled and made it to sixth. My only draws were on the left side of my harness. As I moved one across my body with my right hand the classic “Elvis leg” took over.
“Breathe, breathe,” Wade yelled again.
One more bolt, one more move to the ledge below the anchor. To calm my shaking right leg I stepped back down to the tip of a bubbling feature. The seventh clip was made. On my left toes I rested and then sprang for the ledge.
There it was, Bolts from Heaven, my first send like it was for so many others in this crunchy climbing community. There was no turning back. I would now have to be a climber, or at the very least someone who climbs.
I set up my anchor and I topped out to catch the view. The skyline looked impressive when set behind the river – easily recognizable for Southern eyes. Two years earlier I was working in one of the BB&T buildings complete with a cubicle and keycard. Back then, looking down from the 17th floor, I had no idea that the Manchester Wall existed. I was completely unaware of this lifestyle, that it even existed in Richmond. But it does, and now, in my mid-twenties, this world has become my career. I stared back up at my old office building, my knees shook – gravity, letting me know it’s still there.