"On the rocks"

Jessica Metcalf-Burton

On the third climb I had to stop and appreciate the view, because my hands didn't want to hold on to the rocks any more. At the bottom of the cliff, I could see the people I came with. We were quite an international group: guys from Belgium, Germany, and the US; a girl from Romania, and myself, also from the US. Here we were in Malaga, Spain, climbing rocks.

Rock-climbing wasn't the purpose of the trip. Actually, it didn't even occur to me as a possibility. I got to Malaga by virtue of being a mathematician and having lots of frequent flier miles, and I was supposed to be taking math classes for two weeks. However, on the second-to-last day of the two weeks, the Belgian gave us the best reason ever to skip class: a rumor of rock-climbing.

Our Belgian classmate was an avid climber and had directions, in Spanish, to this alleged rock-climbing site. Since he didn't really know Spanish, finding the climbing site was an adventure in itself. We took a bus to a nearby town, and found that we were on the wrong side of the highway. We walked back towards Malaga trying to find a way over or under the highway, and even tried going up a ramp that said (in Spanish, of course) “No Pedestrians Allowed.”

Eventually we asked directions of some random people who lived in a shack next to an underpass. Following the directions, or so we thought, we hiked through a field of prickly plants. Then we realized we were on private property, not the path we thought we were following. We found a useful stone and climbed over a wire fence, hiked back even farther in the direction of Malaga, found a way under the highway, and finally found the climbing site.

Once there, the German belayed while the Belgian set up a top-rope, and then the rest of us took turns climbing. There were five of us sharing one pair of rock-climbing shoes, since only the Belgian was obsessed enough to bring climbing equipment to a summer school for mathematics. The shoes accumulated a lot of foot-sweat, and passing them around between five people was absolutely disgusting, but sacrifices must be made when there's a cliff to be climbed!

We did three climbs. Everyone got up the first one, including the American guy and Romanian girl, who had never been climbing before. The second climb I couldn't do because I couldn't pull myself up over a ledge. While I wasn't climbing, I amused myself by watching the German guy, who was tall, muscular, and beautiful. He was also a climber, although not quite obsessed enough to bring his shoes to Spain. He didn't make it up the third climb - but I did!


Jessica Metcalf-Burton