Jellied Appendages & Richard-in-suspenders on the Climbing Wall!

5 04 2011

Today was my first time on a climbing wall with a rope and someone paying attention to what I was doing (rather than doing their own climbing and leaving me to entertain myself).  I’ve had a unroped play on a couple of bouldering walls before while my climbing friends have honed their skills but never on a rope and never so high up!

As it was my first serious lesson on a big wall Richard very kindly consented to accompany me 🙂  I warned him on the train there that he’d have to wear suspenders – well I think harnesses look like you’re wearing them anyway 😉  My primary aims were to learn to trust a rope, learn to abseil and try to get more used to vertical heights before I go to Skye in May.  I warned the instructor that I was terrified of heights but that Richard was okay with them…

After a quick ropeless traverse at a low height (done plenty of that before) he showed us how to tie in to the top rope.  We decided Richard should go first as I was still fitting my rock shoes.  Richard climbed in his walking boots and, to be honest, I think I should from now on as that’s what I’ll be wearing on Skye so I should get used to the numbness of them on small holds really.

The first climb was 10 metres (or more meaningfully 33 foot to us older folks) and Richard was soon up it – we’d been advised to just use any colour holds for now.  This climb wasn’t totally vertical but had a slight slope in the non-overhanging direction.  He then followed instructions as to what to grab and what to do with his feet etc. to be roped back down.  He re-joined us on the floor looking calm and unflustered… now it was my go! Gulp!

Up till this point I hadn’t really given it any thought and hadn’t been nervous but, as I started to tie in, I suddenly started with the heavy breathing and shaking.  I could feel my face getting paler and paler – Richard could see it was too.  The nice, young instructor lad smiled reassuringly at me – I grimaced and got to grips with the wall.

I’ve only really climbed to a height of about 15 feet before and so was fine to that point, apart from having already started with slight shakes at the bottom with the thought of having to come back down.  The rope was kept very tight but I don’t remember getting any reassurance from it at that stage.  After the halfway point my body obviously realised I’d climbed higher than before and started to tire.  I still hadn’t looked down though and didn’t intend to.  About three-quarters of the way up I think my head caught up with the fact that I was a long way up a wall (even if I hadn’t looked down) and I started to panic a bit… but I kept steadily on upwards to calls of encouragement from the instructor.  About two holds short of the top I really didn’t want to go any higher but supposed I should so continued.  I then hoped I could hook one hand over the top of the wall but found the top was completely flat so didn’t get any comfort from doing that and re-grabbed my last hold in a bit of a panic.

Of course, this is the stage the instructor tells you to let go of the holds and grab the rope.  Imagining all kinds of wild swinging motions resulting from doing that I just thought ‘not bloody likely’ and stayed clutching my two handholds.  He eventually convinced me that if I didn’t let go of the holds and grab the rope instead, I’d be there for some time!  I was panting hard now and had got very shaky indeed – my arms felt weak and Richard said later he could see my knees knocking up above.  At least I didn’t feel sick…

Eventually I let go of one handhold and made a hurried grab for the rope – wasn’t keen – still didn’t look down.  Eventually I managed to let go of my other handhold and grab the rope with both hands.  But then of course, the next bit is leaning out backwards.  It took a lot of persuading from below before I leaned out much at all – I was happy enough while my knees were in contact with the wall (stopped them knocking a bit anyway) but wasn’t happy when I had to lean out further.  After a few minutes, I managed to lean out far enough to get my knees free and was lowered to the halfway point.  The guy then stopped lowering and asked me if I wanted to look down yet?  I had a quick glance, swore quite badly and looked pointedly at the wall again.  I was then lowered back to the floor.

It was then Richard’s go again and we moved to another section of wall – this time vertical but the same height.  Richard was up and back again in what seemed like a flash with no problems so I started to tie in again.  By now I’d at least learnt the knots so the instructor was pleased with me for that at least.  I still had the shakes and was breathing hard with fear but didn’t feel as pale this time.  Off up again I went.  This time I didn’t have any fear on the way up at all but still didn’t look down while climbing.  At the top I found I was already getting used to the letting go and grabbing of the rope and didn’t cling panic-stricken to the holds this time.  While I was up there the instructor suggested I should have a look down and around me and stay up there a while.  I looked down and swore badly again.  But then I looked a few more times and decided the height was fairly irrelevant really when you’re being held tightly on a rope.  I was then lowered back down again – this time I leaned out properly and ‘bounced’ down.

Climb no.3 then… another vertical climb of the same height and Richard first as usual.  This time when it was my turn I wasn’t shaking when I tied back in and had stopped panting (apart from getting quite tired already).  At the top I was held on a tight rope again and had a longer look down both sides.  The suggestion then floated up from below that I should let go of the rope with one hand.  I took a deep breath and did – seemed okay but a bit swingy.  He then said let go with both hands at once.  After a minute plucking up courage I did but initially my hands were about an inch from the rope so I could re-grab it… then I slowly lowered my hands below me and just hung there.  Decided that was actually okay so, on my way back down this time, I just used one hand on the rope and left the other dangling free (show off! 😉 )

I reached the ground this time to two grins from both Richard and the instructor and managed to grin back – this time it wasn’t a grimace!  Time to do a coloured climb.  I’d done these before on the bouldering walls so knew what to expect so this time I went first.  About half way up the moves got pretty difficult I thought and my arms were tiring – all beginners use their arms too much and, despite hoping I’d be better than that, unfortunately I was doing the same.  I struggled up to the top of it and roped back down.  Richard set off – as he’s much shorter than me I expected he’d find it harder but he didn’t seem to have any problems at all.  But about 1/3 of the way up there was a clatter on the floor.  I looked thinking he’d dropped something out of his pocket and saw his glasses lying there – he’s practically blind without them!  I hurriedly checked they looked okay – they did so I shouted up to him they were okay and he continued to the top but a bit slower.  I asked what grade the black climb was and the guy said about 3+, of course, I’m not that au fait with grades so it didn’t mean all that much to me.

There was only really time for one more roped climb each and a slightly overhanging outward corner was selected – again we could use any holds we liked.  This climb was slightly higher as well I think.  I went first again and was going fine until about 3/4 of the way up when I decided I was completely done in and couldn’t continue.  I stood for a while letting my arms rest but knew I couldn’t fail to reach the top or I’d look pathetic so slowly continued.  Richard didn’t have any such problems which totally miffed my competitive streak, especially as I’d been doing wall press-ups all week (I can’t do them from the floor!) and isometrics and the like and he hadn’t done any prep at all! 😦

We then went for a few minutes of unroped bouldering.  While climbing back down from these Richard suggested that I also needed to make sure on my next visits that I do quite a bit of downclimbing rather than just being roped down as that was what was more likely on the hill.  I also agreed with the instructor that I needed to do some abseiling where I actually started from the top and had to ‘go over the edge’ as I was still likely to find that unnerving I think.  He suggested we do some of that when I go again on Friday night 🙂

After a cooling drink in the caff afterwards (I was sweltered and in a t-shirt, Richard miraculously was still in a sweatshirt and hadn’t broken into a sweat at all!) we rushed off for the train.  I yattered animatedly all the way back (good job I don’t need any replies) until I suddenly realised we were at Richard’s station and he had to leave.  I quickly thanked him for accompanying me – he did have time at one point to say he’d enjoyed it – and he got off to the relative peace and quiet of his town to rest his ears.  He can’t come on Fri night of course as he’s got a beer festival (or cultural event as he calls them) instead.  Even after an hour’s travel, neither of us could feel our arms yet!

What with the 2 mile walk over the hill each way to the station, the hour’s climbing, the stress at the start and the fact that I had to go straight to 2 hours Scottish Country Dancing when I got back, my typing’s now crap and I’m totally exhausted.  At least my noisy headphone music’s helping gee me up – by bedtime I’ll be wide awake as usual.  I noticed the music at the wall was just my kind of thing (Guns ‘n’ Roses etc.) – I’d mentioned that in the cafe afterwards but Richard, predictably, never even noticed it at all – typical bloke…

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2 responses

5 04 2011
mountaincoward

Well it certainly helped with the ‘trusting the rope’ bit… we’ll soon see how much help it is for Skye and then Liathach!

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5 04 2011
Alan

Hi Carol, Good to see you are attempting to address your fears, it looks like it helped, hopefully we can do the Liathach ridge in September, and good luck with Skye before-hand. 🙂

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