Fear And Laughing At The Pinnacles
A Salinas schoolteacher learns some life lessons on the rocks.
Thursday, November 22, 2001
Kim Dewit doesn''t seem like your stereotypical teacher. She''s too much fun. Dewit, 32, lets her wacky personality shine through, whether it''s singing loudly to her earth science class at Alisal High, leading kayak tours, or pushing the envelope rock climbing.
"I can''t sit still," she says. "I''m kind of A.D.D." Whatever activity''s going on for Dewit, it has to involve the outdoors. "I owe it all to my Carmel High teacher, Richard Fletcher," Dewit says. "He took my class on outdoor trips that changed my life."
Five years ago, Dewit found a partial outlet for her energy when she ventured into Sanctuary Rock Gym in Sand City with friend Brian Popovitch, now manager of the gym.
"I hate how good Brian is," Dewit says as she watches Popovitch glide effortlessly up the hardest wall. "I wish I had time to climb more."
Dewit clips a carabiner onto her harness and checks the connection to belayer Rose Ashbach before she scales the wall.
"It''s like a game of chess," Dewit says. "You''re always plotting your next move."
Techno music plays in the clean, warehouse-like gym, owned by climber Spike Bascou. Dewit reaches in the bag hanging around her waist and pats chalk on her sweaty hands.
"I''m actually afraid of heights," she reveals. "But I push myself."
Dewit reaches the top of the wall and slaps the metal anchor with the palm of her hand. Ashbach lowers her down and Dewit bounces on her feet on the springy floor composed of shredded tires. Dewit points at a poster of climber Lynn Hill fighting gravity at Yosemite.
"When I''m freaking out I think of these women who are just rock stars," she says. "I''m never going to get that good."
Popovitch says women are natural climbers.
"Girls have better spatial awareness and balance than guys," he says. "They use their whole body."
A week later, Popovitch and Dewit meet at dawn and pile bags of ropes and climbing gear into Dewit''s pickup, which sports the license plate "N2CLMNG." As she drives to the east side of Pinnacles National Monument, sometimes steering with only her knees, Dewit recounts a trip to Red Rocks, Nevada.
Underestimating the intensity of a climb there, Dewit and friends spent 17 hours scrambling through bat caves, spiderwebs, and trees before climbing down in complete darkness. "Note to self: don''t do that again," Dewit says. "That''s a little too hardcore for me."
Popovitch groans and clutches the dashboard as the truck bounces over the washboard dirt road. "Stop it Brian," Dewit says. "I can feel you rolling your eyes behind your sunglasses."
The sun is turning the red rocks golden as Dewit pulls into the Pinnacles parking lot. She and Popovitch do an equipment check, load up like pack mules, then begin hiking through smooth rock caves and over massive boulders.
The first stop is at Swallow Crack, named, I''m told, for its tendency to swallow gear. Dewit is leading a traditional climb, anchoring gear in the rock herself as she goes, as opposed to sport climbing, where the leader clips the rope into bolts already placed in the rock.
"This is about a 5.6," Dewit says, referring to the Yosemite Decimal System, which ranks route climbing on a scale of 5.0 up to the recently achieved 5.15.
"Wish me luck, it''s the first time I''ve led in a couple of months." If she falls, Dewit''s got about 15 feet before the rope stops her. Dewit balances on a tiny rock outcropping, surveying her possibilities.
"If I were following this I''d already be up by now," she says, perplexed. She swings her foot up to an indentation and sends a shower of loose volcanic rock down towards Popovitch, who covers his head. Pigeon wings flutter and a breeze whistles through the canyon. Dewit wedges a metal cam in a crack in the rock, then clips her rope onto it. She goes up another 10 feet, then suddenly announces that she''s scared. "You''re psyching yourself out," Popovitch replies.
"She''s got healthy fear," he says to me.
"I''ve done this a gazillion times," Dewit says in frustration, then gives a yell of exultation. "Oh, it''s huge right here."
"Kim just found a ''Thank God'' ledge," Popovitch says. Dewit''s happy and no longer visible.
"The bottom''s the hardest part," she shouts down. "Celebration!"
Later, Dewit is singing as she scrambles down the trail, one leg bleeding.
"I''ve always wanted to write a book on how rock climbing correlates to life," she says. "As you focus, you get your feelings out while climbing. I get such an adrenaline rush, that''s why I do it. I think it clears out your system."