NEWTON — I slipped my hand along the fissure, testing flesh against the sandpapery edge of stone until my chalk-dusted fingers caught a crimp in the rock and squeezed. Muscles — some long unused — flexed as I toed the wall with my rubber-soled climbing shoes, using friction to propel me high enough for my other hand to find a new hold.
The surrounding woods in the Hammond Pond Reservation were quiet as I faced off with the wall, part of an outcropping of Roxbury pudding stone tucked in a wooded area off Route 9 between the Mall at Chestnut Hill and the Street.
A few minutes later, I reached the top, some 35 feet high. The scrapes on my knuckles and the bruises beginning to form on my knees were the badges of my accomplishment.
Earlier in the day, as we’d set anchors to hold our ropes to the top of the wall, my climbing buddy and colleague, Ed Medina, called Hammond Pond a perfect place for beginning climbers in the Boston area to test their skills outdoors on routes that are challenging but not too technical. I’d say it’s perfect, too, for climbers like me, reconnecting with the sport after a hiatus.
I started climbing at 17, when an indoor rock gym opened in my California hometown. I was initially drawn to the sport, believe it or not, by a description of climbing in a favorite sci-fi novel. The combination of physical skill, problem-solving capabilities, and fear-stomping determination that it took to get up the wall was what kept me hooked. Climbing also taught me confidence and trust — because the sport is inherently dangerous, you quickly develop close, often lifelong relationships with climbing partners.
I spent hours at the Granite Arch Climbing Center each week, and with the help of more skilled climbers eventually tackled my first big outdoor challenge: Knapsack Crack, a route on a 400-foot-high slab of granite known as the Hogsback near Lake Tahoe.
For years, climbing was a major part of my identity — less a sport that I did and more of a lifestyle. I used what I learned at the gym to land climbing jobs that would help pay for journalism school and the first few months after graduation. Now, at 32, I find my climbing has become sporadic — a few hours in a rock gym here and there — as I’ve too often let my workaholic tendencies keep me from the wall.
And then came the chance to climb at Hammond Pond, a destination popular in part because it is set amid acres of woodland in Newton that are accessible from the MBTA’s Green Line.
To prepare, I took an anchor-setting class to learn how to properly set up a roped climb outside, went on a little shopping spree to refresh my gear supply, and talked Ed, who has years of climbing and anchor-setting experience, and another climber friend into joining me.
We arrived at Hammond Pond on a recent Sunday afternoon, just as a heat wave broke, and took our time setting up two ropes on a rock, known as the Lower Wall, overlooking Hammond Pond.
I’m terrible at reading rock climbing guide diagrams, so even with the help of my 2nd edition copy of “Boston Rocks,” I’m still not sure which routes we set. The names are intriguing and the routes were challenging for me: Maybe we climbed “Pipe Cleaner” or “Free and Easy,” and either “Old Tree” or “Half and Half.’’
No matter. As I stared at the wall from the base of the climb, using the rope to tie a double figure eight into the harness around my waist, anticipation hit.
“Climbing,” I called to my belay partner after we ran through the routine safety checks on our equipment.
“Climb on,” he replied, and my fingers went searching along the wall for a hold.
Up and down I went, refamiliarizing myself with the feel of a good hold, and remembering just how to balance my weight on a wall. Satisfaction reigned when I realized that, despite my lack of regular climbing, I felt just as at home on the wall as ever.
From the top of the Lower Wall, visible amid the leafy trees, the waters of Hammond Pond sparkled. Below, the occasional hiker or dog-walker passed.
Back on the ground, my friends and I chatted with a trio of other climbers, sharing one-liners and joking about our skills, or lack thereof. Despite the proximity of the mall, with its Pinkberry, Showcase Super Lux cinema, and Shake Shack, the scene at Hammond Pond remained apart from the bustle — relaxing, quiet and woodsy.
At the end of the day, over frozen yogurts from one of the nearby shops, Ed and I promised ourselves another outdoor climbing adventure soon. Me, I’m eyeing the boulders atop Savin Hill, just behind the Globe. Ed and I might just have to take a climbing lunch break one afternoon.Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.