Little Black Dress

I was top-roping an exposed and thin ’10c face. Even on TR, anything smooth, requiring healthy servings of finesse, throws me for a loop. A familiar 5.9 would be nice right now. Or a juggy ’10b. Give me some dynamic moves I can use to make my way to the next hold.

climbing hold
Reaching for the next good hold on a more dynamic route

Below me, Geof Childs, who had effortlessly gunned up the rope and set up the anchor, hollered out the necessary beta and encouragement. The air carried the sharp bite of late season and the rock was a bit chilly. The sky was all gray and gloom and I noticed fresh snow creeping stealthily down from the high country.

Climbing is fun, but I was feeling surprisingly grumpy and gripped. Again, I was on TR, so it really was quite silly.

I was also experiencing a touch of performance anxiety. Childs was one of the first to establish routes in this popular cragging area. I have a signed copy of his book “Stone Palaces” and, from pages yellowed and fragranced by the incessant tick-tock of countless clocks, I have enjoyed reading his stories from the early days of the Mountain Gazette.

Childs is kind of a hero of mine.

So this is what Childs said to help me get my head around the thin nubbins generously referred to as holds, to ignore the possibility of a wide and painful swing and to move myself up to the anchor. Childs said, “You are wearing a little black dress and holding a martini. Because your dress is very tight and you don’t want to spill your very dry drink, you must take very small and delicate steps. It will also help if you extend your little finger when you move to the next hold. You are, after all, holding a martini. Grip the hold lightly with your little finger extended … and don’t spill your drink.”

climbing rock
Putting in motion the credo, When in doubt go higher


Good god, I remember thinking, a little black dress? I haven’t worn one in years.

I have a sensationally smoky one sequestered in my closet. She appears to be shunned by whatever else is draped on the hangers at either side of her … Jealousy. I recall slowly pulling this slip of a dress over my head and working her carefully down by body (because she would not fall into place of her own accord). Then there were the awfully-high heels to complete the affect.

Time has passed generously since then. I now have scant use for a little black dress. I have a collection of well-worn ski boots and rock shoes, but my high heels are simply collecting dust. And yet, for some reason, I will not part with her, suspended so lovely and lonely from a pink silk hanger in my closet.


I have now paused about halfway up the route to slowly and carefully pull on my little black dress. I take a small and delicate step up and slightly to the right, lowering my heel and smearing so I am able to gingerly grip the next hold, my little finger properly extended. I blush a little when I think of Childs below me, adroitly meting out and taking in the rope. I am confident he will prevent his gaze from traveling up my dress, both because he is a gentleman and because he is happily married to a bright and beautiful woman. But, still, I am shy.

A few more moves and I have finessed my way to the anchor. Finessed! A smile has found its way to my lips and a few clouds part, allowing a glimpse of some much needed sunglow.

Climbing is fun.

I clip into the chains, break down the anchor and, feeling lazy, ask Childs to lower me instead of rapping down. The taste of gin is on my tongue and my skin relishes the familiar cling of the dress. Untying from the rope, my little finger extends … and I haven’t spilled a drop.

Local Crags
Pleasant scenery abounds at the local crags
Mazama Rocks Road
But before too long the snow will fall in the valley

For information on climbing in my neck o’ the hills:

3 thoughts on “Little Black Dress”

  1. sweet. I really miss rock-climbing. Frozen shoulder put me out of action. Fair warning, folks: when the doc gives you p.t. to do after you break your arm, do it.

  2. Makes me want to dust the cobwebs off my little black dress, shake up some healthy Martinis and find the nearest rocky crags! Cheers

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