My heart is beating fast. My hands are sweaty. I’m wondering if all the chalk in the world can save me. I’ve heard about the technical climbing in the dramatic setting of Arkansas’s highest peak, Mount Magazine State Park, but one previous attempt ended in a rain out after hiking down to the crag. It’s a beautiful hike with playful streams and an incredible view.

Today we are climbing “Pepsi Challenge,” a 5.7 that is about 75 feet. As a Southerner, my first concern is that it’s not the Coca-Cola Challenge. We just drink different types of “Coke” here in the South. My climbing partner, Bill Fitzgerald, who has been climbing about 15 years, says a Mount Magazine 5.7 definitely isn’t your typical 5.7. This doesn’t help calm my nerves. I’ve been climbing a short time, led a handful of routes scared out of my mind, and even though I’m top-roping today, am nervous about him belaying me from the top where he can’t see me and make suggestions if I get out of sorts. And I got out of sorts y’all. There were a couple of sections of the route that stumped me. I still couldn’t see Fitz and had to get creative and use every ounce of determination I could muster. If you listen closely, when I get in his line of site and am working out a problem, you’ll hear me grunting, whimpering, breathing hard, and making all kinds of desperate sounds!

I hope you enjoy our climbing adventure. It’s real and honest. I share my fear, exhaustion and the joy of topping the route, as well as my “Elvis leg” struggle on the hike out! Climbing is physical. It’s mental. It’s a head game. It’s a complete breakaway. You and the rock, only thinking of each move, and piecing together the puzzle as you go. And it’s so worth it. You get to shut out the rest of the world and let the climb consume you. This was challenging and rewarding. Plus, you can stay at The Lodge at Mount Magazine or a cabin with an outdoor hot tub, decompress and have a delicious meal at the lodge’s Skycrest Restaurant. I like to camp but there’s something to be said for having a comfy bed, letting someone else do the cooking and cleaning, and not worrying about bears a.k.a. “the nature” dropping in, so you can rest up for your next route!

Pepsi Challenge tip from Fitz: “When you top out on the foot-wide ledge, place a directional piece and then walk to the 10-15’ to the super-wide and comfy Party Ledge. Clip the bomber new anchors (not the manky old ones), pull up a rock to sit on and enjoy an unparalleled view of the valley while you belay your second up.”