Automattic’s Worldwide WordPress 5k Walk & My 2nd Climbing Wall Visit

10 04 2011

Fri 8 April:
All us WordPress users were recently invited to join in a Worldwide 5km Walk Challenge and were given this week to do it. Admittedly, I walk almost everywhere and this walk was just to take me to my second climbing wall visit where I was to learn to abseil.

As the climbing wall is in Harrogate, I started off from my old workplace on the quaintly-named Grimbald Crag Drive in Knaresborough for the walk into Harrogate Centre. When I worked there, my dinnertime walk used to be along the riverbank for a mile and a half each way – and what a beautiful riverbank it is too! The photos, however, aren’t from this actual visit as I have a film camera and it would take some weeks to: use up the film, send it off, receive the prints back and scan them into my computer! But it would be a shame not to put any photos on the post…

After a short trip down the road towards Knaresborough, there is a river bridge – this is the point I left the car diesel fumes behind and took the lane to the riverbank via ‘The Lido’. This is a huge, tranquil pool in the river where the ducks and drakes were busily pairing up and squabbling over bread from tourists and locals. I left them all to it and took the narrowing path up towards the entrance to the caravan park.

The path goes very high above the river at the point where it passes the caravan site and then immediately drops back down to the riverside where I walked through the burgeoning ramsons (wild garlic). I normally pick quite a few of their leaves to eat (very nice in sandwiches) but today pressed on for my appointment at the climbing wall.

The riverbank winds on below trees in total tranquility and I didn’t meet many people despite it being a lovely evening. Luckily the bank had dried out – when it’s muddy it can be a nightmare and many times I’ve nearly ended up in the river. Unfortunately, after just a mile and a half, I had to leave the riverbank to take a road up through a suburb of Harrogate. This area is what we call a ‘posh’ area (as is most of Harrogate) and there are wide grass verges between the footpath and the traffic so it is still quite pleasant walking. The houses and gardens are quite something too.

It is quite a long walk to the next busy main road which I had to take briefly to my next cut-through of ‘Hookstone Drive’. This road is extremely long but passes my destination, Harrogate Climbing Centre, which is situated in Hornbeam Business Park. The walk is about 3.5 miles and had taken me just over an hour. I was a little early for my lesson so sat myself in the caff with a beautiful freshly-made mixed berry and banana smoothie.

I then went to the reception desk where my instructor from last time surprisingly remembered my name and everything. Perhaps I’m the only gangly beginner they have on their books at present. Or perhaps he remembered my total fear of heights and the fact that I spent the first half of my last lesson with shaking limbs, to the amusement of both him and my buddy Richard who’d accompanied me.

Today my aim was to learn to abseil. On my first lesson I’d obviously had to ‘lower down’ after each climb on the wall but hadn’t had to ‘go over the edge’ – something which was filling me with yet more trepidation. Luckily everything was already set up so we went, without further ado, up the many stairs to the top of the wall I’d started out on during my first lesson – the 33 foot one.

Now 33 feet doesn’t sound far but when you have to lower yourself over the edge, it seems pretty far to me! However, after a brief spiel about how to control my descent with the rope (don’t worry, I was also attached to a safety rope in case I just panicked and let go), it was time to take the plunge!

I had a little practice while still on the platform at just leaning back and controlling my angle of lean with the rope and then edged slowly backwards towards the edge. My right foot seemed quite keen but my left foot was dragging behind and refusing to go near the edge. My nice young instructor Marc insisted I put both feet on the edge. I had a look over where I was about to go and could see tiny people’s heads way below!

Although I was a bit daunted, I hadn’t actually got the shakes this time and, after a moment’s hesitation, bit the bullet and started to lean further and further back over the edge. When I thought I was nearly leaned back enough I got my feet over the edge onto the top of the wall and started to walk down. I realised I wasn’t really leaning back enough at this point as my legs weren’t straight so leaned back further until they were.

From this point, I was really just lowering down from a climb as before, except that this time I was in control of the rope myself and not being lowered by my belayer/instructor. All went fine and about half-way down I stopped for a look about. My instructor suggested I swing around on the rope and bounce from side to side. I did and was quite happy, although I thought I probably looked a bit silly to the climbers below!

I then continued to lower until I thought I was at floor level. I took my feet off the wall to place them on the floor and found that I was still a couple of feet from the bottom. What this meant is that I swung into the wall hard with both knees – ouch! Of course, me being me, my first consideration was not pain or bruising – but had anyone seen me do such a stupid thing? I looked round and the other climbers seemed quite busy – either that or they were too polite to stare or snigger!

I promptly went back up for another go and, although still a bit nervous going over the edge, just got on with it this time. I waited until my feet were definitely in reach of the floor before putting them down this time though.

My instructor then suggested I climb back up rather than coming back round via the steps. That way, he suggested, I could also ‘top out’. I knew from watching my climbing friends when they were learning on real crags how hard topping out can be so I readily agreed. I clambered up the wall, being very hindered by my huge hiking boots which I’d insisted on wearing as that’s what I’ll be wearing on the hill. These are horrendously clumsy for use on a climbing wall and I probably looked most inelegant.

Topping out was indeed hard! Of course, the first thing which happens is you run out of handholds… there is no grip on a flat surface. I placed one arm onto the flat surface but kept a good grip on my last hold with the other hand. I needed to get my feet up higher to get over the top but couldn’t feel what the hell I was doing in my clumsy boots and couldn’t really look back down to see where to put them. I eventually struggled to the top and decided I ought to have another go to see if I performed any better.

I abseiled down quite happily this time and quickly clambered back up. Topping out was very slightly easier this time but not much. There was only time for one more abseil and a couple of short climbs and then my lesson was unfortunately over. On my last climb however, I was earwigging on an interesting conversation between my instructor and a guy belaying his buddy on the next climb to me.

The guy had obviously asked why such an inept specimen was lumbering up the wall in big, clumsy boots and using any old holds instead of sticking to a coloured climb. I’m sure my style screamed out my total lack of promise too! My instructor told him I was trying to prepare for an attempt at the ‘In Pinn’ Munro on Skye – for anyone who doesn’t know it, an awkward and huge rock flake atop a 3000 foot mountain, needing some climbing skill and an abseil off. This guy was conveniently very familiar with the In Pinn and, when I came back down, answered a great many questions for me.

I’m slightly more reassured now and at least I’ve got some idea of how high it is as he pointed out the wall which most corresponded to its height. And at least now I’ve got some idea of how to abseil and know that I will ‘go over the edge’ when I have to. Another kind climbing friend of mine is hoping to take me abseiling on real rock soon 🙂

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