The gym didn't have shoes big enough to fit him. He has size 14 feet. They gave him a refund on the shoe rental and he was forced to climb in his sneakers. I told him that it wouldn't be a problem, since he wouldn't be climbing hard enough on his first night to notice the difference.
They made him do only ten minutes' worth of belay lessons. That didn't seem like enough to me. On my first day, Dave spent probably thirty minutes with me, and covered a lot more topics, like the route rating system. Perhaps they felt it was acceptable since Rob was accompanied by a regular, while I showed up alone. And he did very well, he was listening and got the hang of it quickly.
So, on to the first climb! There is a 5.5 "bunny route" with holds big enough to support sleeping babies in the back room. Rob got up it without any trouble. I went up it too, because I wanted him to belay me for the first time on something simple, so I could get a feel for whether he was going to kill me or not. I don't think it would come to that, but I can see now why the other regulars would get exasperated with me when I first started. He's new so he tends to not take up quite enough slack on the rope, and has to be reminded often. It makes me feel a little bit insecure.
Next we picked a 5.6 that goes around a corner from one wall to another, and ends with a short section that angles in toward you. He did okay at the negotiation from the first wall to the second, but almost couldn't hack the angle-in-toward-you part. He's six-foot-four, that makes some things easier for him, including that situation.
Back on the ground, looking for the next route. "So, are you getting scared?" I asked. (INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: I hope I hope I hope.) He said "No, not really. I can feel the rope right there in front of me, so it's not so bad. I would be scared if not for that, I guess."
Awww, man. What a letdown! I wanted him to be pants-soilingly terrified, the way I was in the beginning. I don't understand how he can reason with the fear center in his brain like that. I can't. Now I'll have to get my vicarious thrills some other way.
Next thing was a 5.7 that angles in toward you very severely, like 30 degrees, but makes up for it somewhat by having huge holds. It's a route Kevin and I have climbed many times. I almost didn't make it up the damn thing myself, because it was hot in the gym that night and it was sapping my strength. "If he can do this one on his first night," I thought, "I am going to be mightily impressed."
He was able to do the first two or three moves, but his strength would give out before he could get any farther. But he's a trouper and tried it several times, and was good about listening to suggestions. I told him that you have to keep your knees bent on serious inclines like that, because otherwise you'll end up supporting all your weight on your arms with your butt way out in space, which will result in almost no weight on your legs, so your feet will fall off the route. That's exactly what happened to him, over and over again. He couldn't quite make the mental leap to keep his knees bent enough, and kept extending himself too far with his arms. That was the first route of the night that defeated him. So we picked a couple of easier 5.7s, which he had no trouble with. In fact, he had an easier time on one of them than I did, because he can leverage his height to get to holds that I can't reach. Bastard.
There is a textured wall area in the second room that's always had a special place in my heart. It has these big "bumps" that stick out two feet or so, and are about four feet from top to bottom. It makes for an interesting experience, since you're navigating over terrain that is always changing. First it's inclining in toward you, then inclining away from you. It's big enough to support two routes, one a 5.7 I can get up easily, the other a 5.9 that neither Kevin nor I have yet to successfully climb. I figured the easier of the two would be good for Rob.
I went up first, to give him an idea of how you might go about it. Rob went up next, and this proved to be the first route of the night that was a good match for him. Not so hard that he didn't have a chance, not so easy that it was no challenge.
He was almost to the top when he got really good and stuck. He was leaning at an uncomfortable angle, about to lose his balance. I pointed out a hold over his head that he could easily reach if he jumped for it a little, but he was having a hard time making himself do it. "See, this is where the fear kicks in," I told him. "Sometimes you simply must have faith. Jump for the hold, maybe you'll make it, maybe you won't, doesn't matter so much as long as you try." He's not quite ready for that level of daring I guess, so he tried something a little less risky to try to get into a better position. He lost it altogether. He fell completely off the wall for the first time of the night. As he was hanging there in space, I said "See? You just experienced the worst case scenario. It's not so bad."
We did a lot more routes than I usually do, since they were all easy ones for me, they weren't wearing me out. Rob held up really well and kept going long past the point where I would have expected him to quit. I never made him use proper-colored holds, since it was his first night, and I gave myself an exemption as well. He decided he wanted another try at the route he fell off of, and he still couldn't quite get it, but he got closer to the top the second time. He didn't fall again, he just decided to quit and came back down.
After we got finished for the night, we drove over to REI so Rob could buy himself some gear. He is already to the point where he needs climbing shoes to keep progressing. Alas, they didn't have any that were big enough for him either. He tried on a few harnesses but none of them felt right to him. So he didn't buy anything after all.
On the way out of the store, he said "I can really feel it in my forearms," moving his hands in circles. "Yep, I told you," I said. "That's your motivation to try to use your legs as much as possible next time. I still get it in the forearms too, but a little less now, since I've been doing it awhile."
Now I've popped the cherry of two climbing-virgins. Rob was far and away the easier of the two. He listens to suggestions much more readily than my cousin Laura did, and he's a lot more enthusiastic about it. I have a sneaking suspicion that he'll never have a gonzo approach to it the way I do sometimes, though. He tends to decide he can't make it up a route and then bails, rather than making a final lunge and falling off. Maybe he'll get bolder as time goes on.
Oh, and that sign that led me to Rob? I am now convinced that was for his benefit, not mine. That guy leads a charmed life. He's got a fairly nondescript job at a dance studio. He doesn't like it much, and has decided to quit and do something else, he's not sure what. Yet somehow he was able to afford a house in the very high-priced neighborhood we live in. He bailed on the first two dates we had set up, and changed the time he wanted to meet just hours before I headed to the gym, but it was all okay with me, since I don't have a busy schedule. And in a few months I'll hand him off to Kevin, providing him with a climbing partner as well.
Sheesh. Some people.