Stubborn Like an Ox on a Cliff

I woke with a start. What had I agreed to? Climbing a cliff when all I could manage was the easy side of a rock wall? Holy shit. I looked at my iPhone. Four hours before we leave.

The Orlyonok Climbing Pro
My coach’s 10-year-old takes 12 seconds to reach the top. I take a leisurely 45.

I had been on an adrenaline high from successfully completing a variety of rock climbing exercises when my new coach, Roman, asked, “Would you like to go climb a cliff on Saturday morning before going to the airport?”


“Absolutely,” I said. When would I ever again have the opportunity to climb a cliff with an experienced coach like Roman? Kate, Zhenya and Roman chatted through the details in Russian and it was announced, “We will leave at 7:30 am and Roman will bring some tea.”


“Is that OK with you to leave at 7:30 am?” Kate asked as if she expected me to say it was too early.


“Why not? That sounds great! We can pack our bags the night before so we can take them with us and go immediately to the airport,” I replied. The timing worked for everyone and we all agreed to meet in the lobby of our hotel.

Onwards Towards the Cliff
Glad we waited to have breakfast as we bumped through streams and dirt roads with holes as big as the car.

We piled into an Uazik and 30 minutes later we were at the cliff. Roman looked at my clothes, “Is that what you’re wearing?” He asked in Russian.

“Yeah,” I replied through Kate as my translator. “I have been traveling for one month for work and I don’t have hiking clothes.”

“It will be cold in the mountains.” He said. I pulled out my beautiful wool Russian scarf given to me by my colleagues as a birthday present.

“I have this, I’ll be fine. Besides, I’ll be moving around.” He looked skeptically at the scarf before turning back to the front.

Rock climbing Outfits
Who needs REI when you can tie a wool scarf around your upper half for warmth and climb in work pants?

Roman declined breakfast before going to set the ropes. Meanwhile, Kate, Zhenya and I had boiled eggs and cheese on toast. He headed back down from the top and I folded my scarf into a triangle and wrapped it in an X over the front part of my body with a tie in the back.


“This scarf outfit is something amazing,” Kate said and we laughed.

“Soon it will be the height of climbing fashion. Look,” I said pointing out the triangle at the back, “I have a cape like Superman.” We laughed again. But I looked at the cliff a little worried. Not that having a Superman cape is going to help me get up that sheer part of the cliff….whatever, I’ll think about that later.


I got my shoes on and strapped into the equipment.

“Go up the crack,” Roman said in Russian and motioned to the crevice in the cliff. I started my way up and made it halfway before finding a difficult spot.

“I’m too short for this,” I called out looking at all the good footrests just out of reach.

“Roman says he understands,” Kate yelled back. “He’s short too and has to work harder than taller people, but you can do it anyway.” I sighed. No getting out of this.

Roman yelled directions of where to put my feet and hands and I followed them till I could find my way again. At the top, I hit the metal thing and then came down.

Go up the crack.
Go up the crack in the cliff.



Zhenya strapped up and went up part of the cliff. Midway, she decided to come down again. I turned to Kate, “How come she can come down when she’s stuck and I can’t?” Kate looked at me.


“Roman understands your character. You are stubborn. You don’t get to come down.” I prepared for the harder side of the cliff thinking about what Kate said. He’s 100% right. I won’t come down until I complete the wall and if I did, I would have to go right back up again. He knew this about me before I did.


I started on the other side of the wall. It was difficult. I struggled to find a place to put my foot for leverage, rubbing it on the side of the wall until I found a small bump in the rock, no more than a centimeter wide, that my foot could rest on. I tested it by pushing myself up. It worked, I could move up.


Climbing steadily up the wall and working through my doubts as they hit me with each new challenging section, I realized how important it is for me to continue to rock climb. Of all the sports that I’ve tried, rock climbing lays your strengths and weaknesses out there like nothing else. After hitting the metal thing at the top of the cliff I floated back down to the ground.

“Roman says that you should continue to climb. If you practice you will get good very quickly,” Kate said as I was taking off my borrowed shoes. Roman continued in Russian.

Final Climb
Stubborn like an Ox.

“He also says that you have the character to make anything happen in your life and that you will go very far.” I thought about what he said as we got back into the Uazik and drove to a waterfall. While I might have this character, the reason I made it to the top was because I had the support of a team and a coach. In real life, I haven’t allowed myself the support of a team. What would happen if I develop a team?

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