My First Outdoor Lead (33) - Petticoats and Promises


The shout echoed in my ears from below.

“Jesus Christ Almighty! Woman, will ye jist get on wi it!!”

My pride was deflated once again by Gordon's brusque encouragement as I stood teetering on a small nub, finger nails embedded into featureless rock with what seemed thousands of yawning, vertigo inducing feet of freefall beneath my feet. I reached up and tried to place the gear for the fourth time but try as I might, I couldn't get it to sit right. The air turned blue and hurt pride turned to anger. It's your bloody fault I'm up here Gordon. 'Nice wee climb for starters,' you said. I should have known I was in trouble when we turned off down the Etive road.

So OK, in reality, I only had myself to blame. I could have said no. But how do you say no to an offer of climbing on hallowed ground and with a man who's said all his fifty-eight years that he would 'nivver, ivver, ivver climb onythin' complicated wi a woman They jist dinna hae it in 'em.'

Course it could have been a cruel experiment to prove himself right but I'd preferred to think the few single pitch climbs we had managed to get done together – grant you, through gritted teeth on his part - had shown him that not only could a woman climb without suffering from the vapours or getting her petticoats entangled in the belay device, but that she was also capable of pretty much everything a man was, 'Come time' of course..

And so here I was, second pitch up on Spartan Slab, feeling slightly vapoury and pretty sure that several invisible petticoats are entangled somewhere in the system. I need to sort this out. I am not going to let Gordon down. I am not going to let myself down and I'm sure as hell not going to put up with constant pisstaking in the pub if I can't pull this off.

The gear sits in. You beauty! Now all I have to do is follow the flake. Flakes are good. Unless they come off. Oh God! What if I come off? What if..? "Jo. Shut yourself up.'

Minutes later I'm there at the top of the pitch and setting up for Gordon's arrival which, as usual, follows unerringly quickly. This time however there's no sideways glare, no dismissive grunt – just an acknowledging nod as I pass him a roly.

“Whit ye thinking girlie?” he says after a few minutes silence.

“Ah'm thinkin' this is an affa bonny spot Gordon, ah'd like tae mebbe come back someday,” says I.

I am sure there's a hint of a smile there as he leads off, treating the lip as if it were no harder than rolling out of the bed. I am inspired. Again. The rest of the climb goes without a hitch, my confidence bolstered by occasional caustic remarks yelled from above or below and I'm sure my glowing grin at reaching the top could have been seen from Glasgow itself.

Later that evening we're sat outside our tents fending off the midges with a bottle of Laphroaig. We don't speak a lot over and above idle banter. Never do. We differ in all our views from political to social. We come from completely different worlds. Gordon gets up to put a bedtime brew on and crouched over the wee stove he looks pensive.

“Y'all right there Gordon?”

“Aye..,” he says, “ I was jist thinkin."


“Weel, ah wis jist thinkin' that mebbe you'd like tae de somethin' on the Buachaille next time we're back”

Like he had to ask.....


Write approximately 500 words about your first outdoor lead and supply an image of you climbing (not necessarily your first lead) and submit to:

The competition will be judged by us here at DMM and the winner announced on Monday 24th December and will win a complete DMM rack worth £500.

But more than that, everyone who submits an essay will receive a spot prize.

More details HERE

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2 Dec, 2007
brilliant stuff! she's edited out some of the swearing though...
2 Dec, 2007
I like it. I'm amazed by how big a thing all these essayists - well that's not true, actually, the mother's-washing-line chap is certainly exempted - make of their first lead. Of course my story wouldn't win any prizes, but 'turn up on freshers' meet, follow one route, leader leads other routes and says instead of following why don't you lead it now, you lead it, life goes on' was pretty much it for everyone I knew when I was starting out. Ageism again, as another entrant pointed out. jcm
2 Dec, 2007
the way I looked at it was not so much about 'my first lead' (complete with fanfare) as I don't remember much about it but it as a point of opening up possibilities. It's not the event, it's how you explain it, that makes an interesting tale, surely? An example of this, to my mind, would be Raymond Queneau's 'exercises de style' - the same story told in 100 different ways.
2 Dec, 2007
Yeahhhhh wot shee sed!
2 Dec, 2007
oops - 99 times.
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