One of the more surreal adventures I’d experienced while filming Explore New England TV was the trip we took to the Quincy Quarries Reservation in Quincy, Massachusetts, with Paul Gannon and instructor Lydia Glenn of REI Co-op’s Boston Local Experiences team. The Quincy Quarries Reservation comprises several former granite quarries, the last of which closed in the 1960s (there were once over 50 quarry operations in Quincy). Today, most of the quarries have been filled in using fill from Boston’s Big Dig highway project, but the granite walls still protrude high above the ground, making them ideal for climbers who want to practice their skills. It should be noted that the granite also serves as a canvas for graffiti artists, and in some quarries almost every inch of rock surface is decorated with colorful spray paint—and sometimes colorful language.
After meeting in the parking area, Paul, Lydia and I, along with cameraman Kevin Erdvig, followed the quarter-mile trail to the Little Granite Railway Quarry, which features a small pond at its base. Its sloping cliff faces range from 75 to 150 feet in height, making it ideal for novice climbers like me.
Lydia and Paul unpacked their climbing ropes, carabiners, belay devices and other gear and selected some sturdy trees to serve as anchor points. Climbing is complicated, at least if you want to be safe about it, and requires specialized knowledge of knots, ropes, rigging, and hardware.
Once the ropes were anchored, I clipped into my harness and practiced the rappelling technique on level ground by leaning back and letting the belay line slide through my hands several inches before snugging up against the tubular belay/rappel device, which uses friction to slow or halt the climber’s descent. When Lydia was sure I had the hang of the belay technique, she attached an additional safety line to my harness that she would control from the top of the cliff and would prevent me from falling if I happened to let go of the rope.
Finally, it was time to for me to take the leap. Keeping a vise-like grip on the ropes, I backed up to the cliff edge, braced my feet squarely against the rock, and leaned out into space. I’ll confess to suffering from acrophobia, but all of the protection made me feel secure, as did Lydia herself, who very calmly walked me through all the steps. Very slowly, I started to descend the cliff face, feeding rope through the belay device inch by inch. By the time I reached the halfway mark, I was feeling confident enough to make little hops by pushing off from the cliff face and letting out line at about a foot at a time. In what seemed no time I was at the bottom, looking up at Lydia.
I hiked back to the top of the cliff and repeated the descent, this time with even more confidence and speed. After my two runs, Paul and Lydia thought I was ready to tackle a bigger cliff, so we re-rigged the ropes just up the trail at a slightly higher elevation. This spot offered incredible views of Boston, as well as some of the other quarries that had been filled. Paul, an experienced climber, clipped into the lines and made the first descent in short order. I followed, and this time I actually had fun, hopping my way down the cliff and pausing to pick some blueberries from a bush that was growing out of the rocks.
Obviously, if you’ve never climbed or rappelled before, you should enlist the help of a professional instructor before attempting the sport. REI Experiences instructors are trained in climbing safety and rescue techniques, and must pass a rigorous test before receiving their guide certification. REI’s Local Experiences team offers climbing classes in the Quincy Quarries and other locations near the city, and REI Co-op members are eligible for discounted rates.
My climbing experience at the Quincy Quarries was a revelation, and part of me still doesn’t believe I actually rappelled down a cliff! Good thing we caught the whole thing on film.