Thursday, 18 November 2010


Me.. much slimmer and younger!
During my early twenties, I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging from various rock faces around the area in which I live, during the winter, I would spend a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging from indoor rock faces in the area in which I live.

I'm not really sure why I stopped climbing.. not the real reason anyway, there were a few catalysts which stand out and I guess the multipliers of these can be attributed to me eventually bagging up my kit and storing it in the loft for the past five years.

Around the time I was climbing a lot, I was reasonably good.. lead climbing* routes of around E5.  I was pretty fearless too, climbing whenever I could and bouldering when a climbing partner wasn't available.  I guess I got a bit obsessed.

And then the first of those little events happened.. whilst climbing a route that was new to me I completely froze.  I was leading, about 40ft up and just below the crux move.  I didn't trust the protection that I had just placed and I couldn't see an obvious position for the next piece of kit.  I stayed there with gradually weakening arms and an increasingly frustrated climbing partner stood below trying to push me on.  I eventually moved, topped out the climb and went on to do another few climbs that day, but the experience stayed with me, previously the height didn't register once I was climbing, I focused on what I was doing and all else faded to grey, after that however, I always had a slight awareness of increasing height.

The second incident happened on a slab route I'd climbed countless times before, it had rained the previous day and the rock was still wet.  Like I said, I was obsessed with getting out and, confidently moving off I got to around 20ft and fell, it was what is known as a ground fall.. in other words, my protection didn't leave me suspended in air, I hit the deck.. hard.  I didn't break anything but I was pretty badly beat up for a few days after.

I also saw a lad fall from around 6ft, landing on his bum, he broke his coccyx.. I can still hear the screams he made when the paramedics gently loaded him into an ambulance.

Needless to say, it's been about 5 years since I last pulled on my harness and dipped my hand into a chalk bag so I was naturally a little apprehensive when a mate asked if we could go climbing.

We climbed for an hour or so, ticked off some short routes, gradually increasing the technical grade and then, in a final act of bravado, headed for the bouldering room to round the evening off nicely.

You know what? I loved it, the feel of climbing, the smell of the chalk in the air, the heavy bass from the music reverberating through the building and the satisfaction of reaching the top of a challenging route. 

I felt hardwired into the old climber in me, sure, I didn't have the endurance to climb all evening then boulder til closing and steering on the drive home may have been slightly more difficult than I remember but I'll definitely go again..  Sitting here typing with sore fingers and aching arms I've got a smile on my face and I guess that's what it's all about.

*Lead Climbing involves climbing a clean route, putting in protection as you go