Even though I’d been wanting to go for ages, I still spent the whole of the day thinking I was crazy to have actually booked onto a climbing course.
My two niggling concerns were:
- I am too old.
- I am not going to fit in.
Concern 1) was offset by the fact that I’d been ID’ed again in Aldi over the weekend. It wasn’t even as if it was something nice I was buying, it was only bog standard wine to make gravy. Although my pained, world weary face when I said, “I’m thirty-six,” and proceeded to fumble around for ID must have aged me enough to make the cashier back off and say, “Er, just forget I said that.”
Concern 2) was slightly increased by sitting outside the leisure centre just beforehand and watching two big blokes get out of a car looking very purposeful. I didn’t feel purposeful, or big, or blokey. Still, if we were all going on a course together, we were all there to learn and meet people, right? So. I went in.
Wherever the two big blokes were going, it wasn’t the same place as me, since it turned out that I was the only person booked onto the climbing course. There were supposed to be two others, but they didn’t turn up. So it was only the instructors, Bob and Clara, and me.
We had a bit of an introduction, and then I was roped up and did an initial climb. It didn’t go very well. I was afflicted by the same panic and clinging on for dear life that I’d suffered from the first time I went up a wall. I did make it to the top, eventually, where I experienced the same reluctance to let go that I’d felt last time as well. It is really strange taking both your hands off the holds and just leaning back into nothing.
I got down to the bottom and panted a lot. Clara pointed out that they had climbing shoes they could lend me. Climbing shoes look like this:
and are much better than trainers because they are very thin and grippy, so wearing them is like having sticky feet. Bob showed me how to balance my weight over my feet so that my legs were taking more of the weight, and this time I got up more easily.
Then we had a bit of a break and went over knots and the theory of belaying – where a climber is held from the top by a rope through an anchor point. At the bottom, the rope is held taut by their partner.
I would love to be able to take my Lovely Daughters climbing one day and be able to do the belaying myself. However, this is the bit that really scares me about climbing: the thought of being responsible for someone else’s safety up there and of relying on myself being careful.
I am not a careful person, never have been, never pretended to be. I do get easily bored. Also, if I am tired, I tend to lose concentration. Sometimes I keep going beyond this point and push myself harder than I should do, instead of stopping.
So. Talking to myself into carefulness was at the forefront of my mind. But it was tiring. It’s very weird putting yourself in that position of responsibility. I was lucky that Clara was there to be my belaying partner, as she is just a little bit taller than me.
“Can anyone hold anyone’s weight through this system?” I asked Bob. “I mean, could I belay someone who’s much bigger than me?”
“Well, you’ll probably find that most times, you’re belaying someone who’s bigger than you,” Bob said, frankly.
But yes, in theory, you can belay someone who is bigger than you.
I think I’m going to have to work on my technique though, because the first time I had to let Clara down, I got dragged forwards towards the wall, which is not the idea. Clara and Bob gave me various helpful suggestions, all of which were useful, but none as practically helpful as the large sandbag that they eventually attached me to. This has “VERY HEAVY – DRAG DO NOT LIFT” written on it and stopped me from being pulled forth and hoisted up into the air. However I don’t think this is a good long term solution eg for the outdoors, so I am going to have to work on this in the next part of the course.
Bob told me a bit about the outdoor climbing available in Sussex, which is sandstone based.
Due to the geology of the area, this is all we have. For the craggier climbs, like this, you have to go further north:
Then I did a more difficult climb, the rightermost of these three, which was OK:
And then right at the end, when I was really too tired and should have stopped myself, I did the one next to it, which looked similar, but which turned out to be much more of a pig and I got stuck on it.
Help!!! At least I have a challenge for next time.
Bob and Clara were such good teachers. I’d recommend Adventure Unlimited courses wholeheartedly, as they were very friendly and welcoming, and made what was still an overwhelmingly new experience for me very enjoyable and manageable.
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