My First Outdoor Lead (118) ? M1, Avon Gorge - 1986

Star Wars, Pembroke
© Chris Daignton

I think I only wanted to impress her. She'd taken me out in my trainers a few weeks before, me cocky-mouthed but sweaty palmed, making out like it was just another day in the life of. Arms full of bursting, squeezing my way up Suspension Bridge ArĂȘte on a crisp packet day. I lied to her, pulled on a nut for a moment, trainers with nowhere to go. No trouble, I'd said. A few fags later, I was chicken-scratching my way up some oily slab, fingers giving way to Newton's law. She'd hooked me at last.

My trainers wouldn't get me to the top of the toilet block in the Avon mouth car park, and I could only manage to hold on for a few moves before gravy-training my way down again. The Boreal Fire's changed everything - she'd gifted them to me - along with an old chalk bag and Troll harness. Soon, I could manage a few ticks of said toilet block before having to retreat to the Escort, just about able to roll myself a spliff or two. This was my training regime.

Mid-week and I chanced upon a willing stranger crazy enough to have me second him. I was all nonchalance when he suggested doing M1 which came in at a hefty E1. Of course, having pulled my way up many of the HVS and VS 'classics' of Avon gorge in previous weekends with her made this E1 feel pretty damn easy. So easy in fact, that I was back the following weekend.

This time it was me deciding where to go, leading the way, knowing where I was going. Truth be told, I don't actually remember much about doing the route that day. Only that I got to the top. And I had a dry mouth. And I still had most of the gear on my harness. She told me I was firkin crazy, that the gear was shit, the rock was shit, the climb was shit. That I would have died if I'd fallen off. All I wanted to do was have a spliff and shag her. Right there, underneath the start of New Horizons, pitch two. Getting down that slab was more scary than climbing the route. We laughed our way back to the car, and we drove home, me all synapse's and grins. For days afterwards I would just sit in the chair, spliffed up contentment. My rat was fed.

I only continued climbing for another year. Then it all stopped. I don't really remember why. Only that we'd grown apart. I moved back to my hometown. Distractions. I guess it was about fifteen years later that I returned to the bottom of M1. I didn't remember anything about it this time either. Except that the gear was spaced, the rock was OK and the climbing was good...


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