I am a coward. Stuff scares me. Flying, tunnels, work, not having work, eels. Life is scary enough. I don't need to measure my own mortality by stretching it thin against a wall of rock.Which doesn't explain why I found myself at Bamford Edge looking up at a crag all grey and rough as a rhino's arse with rock piled up like kebab meat stacked on a spit. Grit: God's own rock. I wasn't looking to be a hero. I climbed because it was the closest I could get to being a child again. I was rubbish: a happy trier. Life just never felt safe enough on solid ground to want to challenge it with too much altitude. Why I ended up at this particular corner of rock, with a wall of friends behind me and no way out other than up, is still something I am trying to figure out.
I had covered my head with my fleece as an emergency midge helmet and sported a kind of clanking hula skirt of shiny gear and coloured strips of material that, used correctly, I knew could save me from myself. Progression in climbing seems to have its own momentum. Your life played back to you but in rock-time. When do we stop being kids? Is there ever one defining moment? You start out having fun, carefree and unselfconscious - climbing because you like the feeling of moving your body over a bit of rock. And then it all gets so bloody serious. Simple joys become hard won pleasures. Before you know it, you're in a metal hula-skirt and midge helmet, talking ethics and etiquette - hoping no one is watching you, disapproving. I was to lead an easy 8-metre corner route that any normal person could solo in a sumo suit with lard for boots. With encouragement being poured down from above like a concrete overcoat, I began by shimmying myself up and into the first comfortable bridging position. Nuts and wires didn't mean anything to me until I placed one.They were weird, improbable looking things out of their natural habitat. Like beach-stranded sea creatures. I didn't get them. I didn't get that they could really protect me, so I pushed my first one in cynically, jiggled it round a bit and then suddenly the rock bit down hard and wouldn't give it back to me. I was grateful. A few feet higher. Was I feeling the fabled buzz? Not really. Mainly discomfort scattered with moments of muted pleasure when a piece of gear fitted well: like the feeling I used to get when I got a sum right in maths homework. Qualified pleasure. I hated maths. I reached the top of the route and lay sprawled, politely waiting for the buzz to hit me. Nothing. I remember walking away still feeling like a coward. It certainly hadn't made me braver. Life still scared me. It wouldn't be until later on that evening when I thought back on the day and first felt a weird tingle, like the sting of sunburn when it starts to kick in way after dark. It was uncomfortable but there was a certain complicated pleasure, and we all know those complicated pleasures are always the ones to look out for. Was this what climbing for grown-ups was all about?
My First Outdoor Lead: confessions of a coward #1
nicolaw, Dec 2007
© madaleine warner