I watched as Muddy, Angus and Father Brian loaded a canoe up onto the boat trailer. I sighed and looked at my watch. I had to find my three children and relieve the child care staff. I was later then the allotted thirty minutes.
I returned to our rooms but found them empty. Ugh. It was a bit like a game of hide and seek. Across fifteen acres of camp. I heard voices outside the main house and decided I would start my search there.
I walked to the west side of the building. I could hear kids on the climbing wall and took the liberty of entering Bobbo and Muddy’s shared room after I knocked, peaked in, and saw that it was empty. The window in the room, overlooking the climbing wall, was open. The voices were louder. I carefully traversed the room which was a moderate disaster of tossed clothing, rumpled sleeping bags and footwear, and I looked out the window. I saw Joey from the Deer Hut as he was climbing up the main house.
“Hello!” I called down to him.
“Whoa! Nurse Anne!” Joey giggled as he looked up at me just a couple of feet above him. “You scared me. Good thing I didn’t let go!”
“Sorry! I’m looking for my children. Have you seen them?”
“Yup. They are with us learning how to climb.” Joey tilted his head backward and I looked beyond him to the ground. Sure enough Sarah and Megan were being taught how to belay Joey. Patrick, meanwhile, had a helmet on and was being placed into the climbing harness by Anita and Sammy while the Deer Hut campers provided climbing tips. He was nodding enthusiastically as the helmet slid backwards and forwards.
“I’ll be down in a minute!” Lucky me. Cancel the marathon of hide and seek. I skipped over the dirty laundry and hurried back to my room and grabbed my backpack. I ran down the back stairwell and around the west side of the building. As I came around the corner I saw Patrick start climbing up the wall as three of the Deer Hut campers shouted directions and encouragement to him and Sammy and Anita belayed him. I sat on a worn wooden bench tucked just under a maple tree. It was still damp from the morning rain but the air was warm now and thick with the heavy scent of pine. I placed the backpack on the ground beside me and quietly watched him progress. He was doing pretty well but I noticed a few times, when he had difficulty reaching a hold, that Anita would pull on the belaying rope and haul him up. He got all the way up to the steep overhang at the third floor of the building and gave up.
“Take! Lower me down please,” he called over his shoulder. Anita and Sammy slowly lowered him down. They unstrapped him and he removed his helmet.
Five of the Deer Hut campers immediately surrounded him, patted him on the back and congratulated him. It was incredibly sweet. He sported an enormous grin. Then he noticed me sitting on the bench.
“Mum! Did you see me?”
“I did. Good job, buddy! You were so high up there.” I said as I clapped. He ran to sit beside me and recounted his climb, blow by blow while I listened intently.
Sammy and Anita suited up Sarah and she began to ascend the wall. Again, the Deer Hut boys provided direction and encouragement.
“Was it hard?” I asked him as we watched Sarah try to master the overhang.
“This part was really hard,” Patrick pointed to the overhang and whispered to me as we watched Sarah try to maneuver from underneath. She managed to get a few feet higher but it proved too difficult to her too. Sammy and Anita belayed her down. Sarah was rewarded with high fives from the Deer hut campers. She was delighted. She came running over to me.
“Wow Sarah! Great job, sister!” She was all smiles and sat beside Patrick as they discussed their climbs.
Megan was now suited up and began her climb. The scenario repeated again as the campers clapped and encouraged Megan. She got two holds higher than Sarah when she called it off. Back down she came. I grabbed my backpack and approached Sammy and Anita as they unhooked Megan.
“Ladies! I’m sorry I’m so late getting the kids. Thanks so much. What a great opportunity for them. They had so much fun.” I said to Sammy and Anita.
“Not a problem. I figured you were busy. OK, now its your turn Anne.” Sammy said to me. Sarah, Megan, and Patrick jumped up and down and cheered.
“Squeeze me?” I said.
“To climb the wall.”
“Ya. Have you ever gone climbing?” Anita asked.
“Do you want to try it?”
“Nope.” I said. The height was rather bothersome to me.
“Come on Mum! Camp is all about trying new things.” Sarah piped up.
“And challenging yourself.” Megan added brightly.
“Do it Mum. It’s fun.” Patrick grabbed my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Huh. These kids really were learning a few lessons at camp.
“Do it. Do it. Do it.” Sammy started to chant. Then, of course, everyone at the climbing wall joined in. “DO IT. DO IT. DO IT.”
“Fine.” I said and the mob broke out into cheers. “But can I do the easier path without the overhang?”
“Sure. Sure.” Anita laughed. “The easy wall for Anne for her first time.”
“Thank you.” I said and then Sammy and Anita began my schooling on climbing.
Chalk, helmet, belay, harness, carabiner, holds, tension, rappel, take, hang dogging. I got a thorough lesson provided by Sammy as Anita suited me up and the kids all chatted excitedly. Once the harness was in place and tested I walked towards the wall and caught a glimpse of myself in the dining hall window. The harness, tightly fastened, had my shorts in a literal bunch. My hair was peeking out from underneath the helmet. I looked hideous.
“Waddya think you guys?” I said as I turned around and struck a fashion model pose. The kids laughed. “I feel ridiculous.”
“Safety is not ridiculous.” Sammy said as she patted my shoulder.
“Right. And I do want to be safe.” I said as I walked back to the bottom of the wall and looked up and grimaced. Three floors. It didn’t sound like much. “OK. Let’s do this.” I reached up with my right hand and stepped up onto the lowest hold with my left and I felt the belay rope pull taut on my harness.
I slowly but surely ascended the wall under the close supervision and guidance of twenty Deer hut campers, my three children and five camp counselors. They clapped and cheered with every step. Meanwhile my fingers and forearms began to protest within the first minute. “You have no upper body strength,” they reminded me to my dismay. I didn’t think I would make it to the top, however, it was hard to ignore the cheering down below. I kept pushing upward.
By the time I had reached the beginning of the third floor my fingers, forearms and now my calves were screaming at me. I guess that is to be expected when you are trying to haul your whole body weight up the sheer side of a building.
“You are almost there, Nurse Anne! Just two more steps and you will reach the roof,” I heard a little Deer hut camper’s voice call up to me.
“OK!” I sang back with a light voice, but my fatigued muscles bellowed, “Abort the mission! Abort now!”
I took a deep breath and looked at the final two holds that I needed to hit in order to reach the top. I needed to finish this bugger off. I decided to make quick work of them before my muscles gave out entirely as I could feel my forearms begin to shake with the fatigue. I pushed up hard with my aching legs and polished off the last two steps and smacked the edge of the roof with exhilaration. The crowd roared. I felt the belay rope tighten on my harness and the pressure on my legs lessened.
“Well done Anne! Now just sit back in your harness and relax as we help you down with the belay rope. While you are up there you should look over your left shoulder and enjoy the beautiful scenery.” Anita instructed me.
I looked over my left shoulder and sure enough, the view was incredible. I was able to see across the top of the forest of the most westerly portion of camp, across the water and to the opposite side of the lake.
As I took in the view my body was awash with adrenaline and I felt a mix of emotions. I felt exhilarated, free, proud. Then I turned my head, had a look down at the ground. I immediately felt dizzy, nauseated, terrified. I snapped my head back up and stared straight ahead as I gripped the roof gutter and trembled.
“I’m ready to come down now.” I squealed as I resisted the urge to vomit.