It was the start of a 7-day rock climbing trip in the White Mountains National Forest, sponsored by Higher Ground USA.
As I had no experience rock climbing, I was both excited and fearful of what the 7 days would hold. I only thought this would be a game-changer for me, that rock climbing would be a special calling. I left my newly wedded wife Luanne at home to find out how bad I wanted this.
A band of veterans managing their internal demons with caring Higher Ground staff and volunteers whose charge was to integrate them into the sport of rock climbing, we all had hopes that the days we stayed would change our lives forever.
Lead recreation therapist Natasha Roseboom said she always knew what she wanted at an early age – to combine the healing power of the outdoors she loved so much in a therapeutic setting.
"Bonding is what results from shared recreational experiences,” Roseboom said.
Rumney Rocks, located between Rumney village and West Rumney, is a popular rock-climbing destination with most climbing done on the south face of Rattlesnake Mountain. Its cliffs mostly range from 40 to 90 feet, with some reaching a dizzying height of 300 feet.
I put on my harness, climbing shoes and helmet, with hand chalk at the ready, reached up to climb, and – fear in my mind – pulled back down.
I blamed my failure on my obesity, with a weight that hovered around 275 lbs. I blamed it on my lack of experience. I blamed myself and a thought crept into my head – I don’t belong here.
“I really don’t belong here, Natasha,” I said. “I think I should go home and chalk this up to experience.”
Natasha, in her way, said I should at least try one more day and see how it went. After all, driving four hours home to Gloversville, N.Y., from New Hampshire was a long ride. I agreed to stay one more day to help on the ground, but to not attempt another climb.
Noticing how hard I struggled to climb the crag the first day, our rock-climbing guides Dom Pascariello and Nate McKenzie hatched a plan to get me to the top by using adaptive rigging.
Conquering my fears, I also adapted, overcame my internal barriers, and started climbing by hoisting myself with pulleys and ropes with the help of my guides and the encouragement of the group.
“We are right here with you,” Pascariello said. “We got you.”
He said that with the use of special adaptive rigging anyone can climb, including those with special needs. “Everyone with the right attitude can climb,” Pascariello said.