Climbing Gone Bad

My friend Andy invited me to go rock climbing out in Malibu. Andy, his girlfriend Madi, our other friend Alex, and some random girl Alex was hooking up with were all making the trek up North. I decided that I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to be the only single person there. Thus, I invited a girl from work.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to invite someone. Normally I am totally cool being the third or fifth wheel. It comes with the territory when you’re always single. But, having been stricken with this unexpected desire to have a real bonding experience with a girl, I set out to find a companion.

I extended an invite to someone we’ll call Cathy. I had spoken with her three or four times ever, but that was three or four more times than most of the girls I work with, so it was worth a shot. She accepted the offer. Our pseudo-date was set.

Almost as soon as it started, it began to unravel.

To kick things off, I told her to drive over to my apartment at 8 AM. I said that I would then drive from my place to Andy’s, and then we would carpool. I later learned that she lived two miles away from me. I could’ve easily picked her up had I bothered to learn where her apartment was. When she told me “next to The Grove” I didn’t even process what that meant. For some reason I always think of the Sherman Oaks Galleria when people say The Grove. It never occurred to me that it would be tremendously odd for someone who worked in Century City choose to live in Sherman Oaks. I just accepted it. My lack of knowledge of my own city made it so that my “date” had to worry about driving and finding parking, which turned out to be a pain. Already a strike against me within 15 minutes of being awake.

We made it over to Andy’s without incident, and then hopped in Andy’s truck for the trip to Malibu. The car ride was spent trying to rack my mind to find any non-work related topics of conversation. This turned out to be exceptionally hard. Cathy and I didn’t have a whole lot in common.  And poor Andy, having never gone on a mail run, entered a booking, or worked as an assistant, was completely out of the loop. The conversation was as forced as a bad post entry pass. Or as forced as that last simile.

After arriving at the park, I realized that this adventure was going to be slightly more perilous than I thought. We had to hike for a half mile or so after parking, eventually arriving at a small lake. The only way past was to swim through the water or to traverse the adjoining rock wall. Since no one had a bathing suit, climbing was the only option.

The wall rose vertically out of the deepest point of the lake. Any small misstep would send you tumbling into the water. There were plenty of holds, but it was still slightly intimidating to those of us who stopped rock climbing after 6th grade gym class. I’m sure it was even more daunting to Cathy, who was recovering from a knee operation and sporting old, worn out running shoes. She had asked me before hand if she would need boots with good traction. I confidently assured her that sneakers would be just fine. Whoops.

This initial crossing of the lake was a bit of a struggle, but the crew managed to make it across with minimal drama. There was one particularly difficult spot to navigate, but with some coaching, and some hand holding, Cathy was able to make it across. I had a notion that it might be much harder coming back, but at the time I was just relieved to be back on solid footing.

The hike continued for another few minutes, and then we were at our destination. The climbing aspect of the trip was less than satisfying. Climbing is a sadistic sport for skinny people who like to slowly crawl very high into the air while crammed into ballet shoes, all while wearing a harness that feels like an adult diaper. Then, if you do manage to make it up the wall, you have to trust that the dental floss thin fiber holding the whole operation together won’t snap at any instant.  I’m not the biggest fan of sports where you legitimately are thankful to not be dead afterward.

The experienced climbers in our group scampered all over the wall. Cathy and I struggled. I inched about half way up what was supposed to be an easy route before collapsing as if I had just finished a marathon. The only person worse than me was Cathy, who couldn’t even rise out of the starting position. She literally just  strained for a minute or two then gave up. It was uncomfortable to watch. I think it’s safe to say she wasn’t enjoying herself at this point.

Thus, Cathy and I did very little climbing and a whole lot of sitting in the dirt, talking about work and half heartedly cheering on our comrades. It was less than thrilling.

The group left about an hour after arrival. As we approached the lake where we made our initial crossing, it was easy to notice that the area had a distinctly different vibe at that point in the day.

The ambiance had gone from that of a peaceful, secluded body of water, to a free, outdoor raging waters. There were hundreds of people. There was music.  There were obese men with garish tattoos daring their friends and family to jump off of very high rock ledges into the water. The jumpers were careening off the top of the rock that we had to traverse.

Our little caravan now had to deal with people soaring in above our heads and splashing on our rocks, making the climb all the more perilous. I did not like the looks of things, and I can only imagine that Cathy was trembling in her shitty, worn out Reeboks.

The first four people in our crew made it over just fine. I was one of these four. But, it wasn’t easy. There was a moment where I genuinely thought I might fall. It took significant effort, focus and flexibility to not become the laughingstock of Malibu creek for years to come. I was relieved when I finished, but also instantly worried that there was a very high chance Cathy was going to become that laughingstock.

Alex and Cathy were the final people in line. I stopped after the difficult part to watch and offer support. I had a perfect view of everything that was about to transpire.

After a few tentative steps, you could see the happy go lucky smile vanish from Cathy’s face. It was replaced with a look of pure trepidation. She awkwardly searched for handholds, moving and slapping  her hands like a 7 year old playing her first game of Marco Polo. Her sneakers were perched perilously in the one crevice she felt comfortable in, and shouts of “use that crack” and “support your self on your right foot!” where met with increasingly anxious laughter, and precious little movement.

She made a few half hearted flails to get her feet into proper position, but her fear was not allowing her to trust her climbing ability. It was like asking a brand new puppy to go pee outside every time it needs to go. Technically it’s possible, but you know it’s not going to happen.

I was pretty much resigned to the fact that she was going to either fall in the water or break down crying. Possibly both. Thankfully, Alex was not going to give up.

He decided to climb directly in front of Cathy, where he could coach, coax and, if need be, carry her across. Now let’s pause for a second and take a look at me in this situation. I got this girl out of bed at 8 AM on a Sunday with the promise of a hike, some mountain climbing, and the beach. I told her it would be a low key day of climbing and sun bathing. I never checked any of this with the people who climb in this area. I just decided that nothing too strenuous could possibly come up.

Would Cathy have appreciated some fair warning that she might be asked to perform semi-dangerous climbing maneuvers over bodies of water? Most likely.

Anyway, I could do nothing but stare as the girl I invited was having a life or death struggle to avoid mortal embarrassment in front of a guy she kind of likes, his friends, and hundreds of rowdy, drunk strangers.

After realizing how hard it was going to be, she stopped and asked if there was another way around. Everyone insisted that there wasn’t. She was going to have to try the crossing one last time, or strip down and swim across, which I imagine would be the most humiliating of all options. Even though it appeared there was no way she was going to be able to conquer that menacing gap, I was strongly hoping that she would give it another go.

This is where Alex, god bless his soul, stepped up and did what I assume Cathy hoped I was going to do: he performed feats of manliness and valor in order to save her from this increasingly terrible situation. While I hung out on the safe side and offered timid platitudes, Alex straddled the gap that was giving Cathy trouble and calmly told her that he would get her safely across.

I thought for a half second about volunteering to take Alex’s place. Then I realized that my efforts to get her across would involve a lot of non specific yelling and possibly end in me deciding to try to throw her. That would have ended badly, possibly with a lawsuit.

So I made the choice to keep my distance and watch while Alex got her to slowly edge her way around the rock. She reached a point where she was going to have to reach her leg backward to make contact with the boulder on the other side of the water. This, I cannot emphasize enough, was wishful thinking.

Her holds were not secure and her body was shaking. Her leg was reaching, but it was never going to make it. I was already prepping my new lines of encouragement: “I wish I was in the water cooling off. You’re lucky!” “They say swimming is the best low impact workout!” “I would jump in there with you, but I have my phone on me, you know?”

Just before she was going to plunge to her watery grave, Alex reached out his arm to give her support. Cathy grabbed it like a life preserver, but she still wasn’t able to get her leg across the gap. At this point I was certain she was going to start crying. She was saying stuff like “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” and “What am I doing ?!” and “My knee hurts!” and “Oh god I’m not going to make it.” You know that point where nervous laughter crosses the line into a some kind of pure, unadulterated plea for help? Neither did I, until that moment.

I was silent at that point, but Alex was still soothing and encouraging. He was dealing with the situation like a seasoned firefighter extricating someone from a burning building. He kept telling her to just go for it, and that he had her if she slipped. She finally went for it, and totally and utterly slipped.

She was now dangling over the water, supported entirely by Alex’s ONE arm. It was an unfortunate situation for Cathy, but Alex definitely came off like a bad ass. She just hung there for a few seconds, making awful grunting noises.

Alex barely even broke a sweat, while being stretched between two rocks over a body of water, holding a flailing, hysterical girl with one arm. I was thoroughly impressed/emasculated. He calmly lifted the rest of her torso over the gap, pulling her sweatshirt over her head in the process. She blindly felt for toe holds, finally achieved one, and was then able to support her own weight on the other side of the gap. The nightmare was over.

I was still just standing, awestruck and silent. I kind of realized that watching another guy perform herculean feats of strength to help my date get through a traumatic moment would be a strike against me, but the whole situation was so ridiculous I was just happy that no one got wet.

I would bet a lot of money that this afternoon comes up in a therapy session at some point. For either of us.

So, Cathy arrived on the other side, head buried in her sweater, shaking, and most assuredly not laughing. I was absolutely convinced there were going to be some serious water works when her head popped through that head hole.

But, to her credit, there were no tears. She resumed the uncomfortable laughing, which at that point was almost worse than crying.

We finally got out of the mountains, grabbed some food, and headed off for the beach.

The beach had the potential to erase all the bad memories. I figured we would splash about in the water for a bit, maybe throw a frisbee, and then get out of there. We’d all be relaxed, tan and merry. What can go wrong at the beach?

Three hyper-competitive guys and a volleyball would prove to be the answer to that question.

The game of the day involved standing in a circle and hitting a volleyball back and forth to one another. The objective was to see how many consecutive hits we could achieve without the ball touching the sand. It’s a simple but incredibly entertaining game. Our goal was to get 70 hits in a row. That was a tough but achievable goal. The process became a lot more difficult when Cathy decided that she would prefer to play this game than hang out on the towel with Alex’s date. I don’t really blame her. That girl was tremendously boring.

What no one realized was that Cathy had zero coordination. Her volleyball form was eerily reminiscent of what my 6 year old cousins looked like when they were blindly trying to hit their birthday piñata.

The game became as much about keeping the ball away from Cathy as it was about keeping the ball in the air. But, this is harder than it seems. We didn’t want to be obviously rude. We also were determined to get 70 hits. It was a conundrum.

Seeing as we are kind people, we suffered through round after round of solid streaks that were interrupted by Cathy’s inability to hit the ball anywhere but STRAIGHT DOWN. She had just been through some serious shit, so everyone stayed incredibly positive with her, but our patience had it’s limits.

Finally, through some stroke of luck, we were able to get our hit count up into the 30’s. Then, as if engaged in some silent, unbreakable pact, the four other players in the game stopped hitting the ball to Cathy. Our tally crept higher and higher, and the ball never went anywhere near her. She went from a ready position, to sort of half paying attention, to standing upright and dropping all pretense of being involved.

The other four were locked in. Some might say too locked in considering it was supposed to be a casual day at the beach. I say go all out or don’t play. Moderation is the only thing worth doing in moderation.

So ,without the participation of our hand eye challenged comrade, we finally got to 70. The first hit after achieving our goal was right to Cathy, and she joined back in like nothing happened. What a trooper.

As far as dates go, if you want to call it that, it was a solid 1 out of 10. It rises from a 0 to a 1 due to the fact that I didn’t lose my car keys. After the climb, the beach, and the long car ride back to Andy’s apartment, I found myself hunched over my backpack, frantically looking for my keys. After checking pretty much every crevice, I became convinced that they had somehow fallen out while I was hiking. Cathy might have started walking home if had to tell her that we were going to wait for a tow truck. Thankfully the keys turned up on my second pass through my bag.

We drove him in silence, other than when she corrected me as I was about to get on the wrong freeway on-ramp. We’ve spoken less than 10 words since.

So…who wants to go hiking next weekend???


3 thoughts on “Climbing Gone Bad”

  1. Hey Drew,
    I used to hike and climb that area in High school all the time with my skinny spindly-armed friend, who is now a sponsored climber. Im familiar with the spot you described, and we ended up swimming around that section half the time. Sorry it had to be a first date, but thanks for the entertainment! If it makes you feel better, Rich got shot trying to save a ladies stolen purse on our second date!

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