Back in March I went to Burbage Edge in the Peak District for my first outdoor climbing experience.
It went well.
Three months later in June I found myself at the base of my first 330m climb. This was my third day out climbing.
The night before we wild camped by the Ffynnon Llugwy Resevoir under a tarpaulin. Yes, a tarpaulin, to save weight when climbing the next day. Speaking of weight, when we set off the next morning carrying all the weight in yet another backpack that felt bigger than I did, I spent most of the walk to the climb wondering how on earth I was going to climb with so much weight attached to me. It was strenuous enough lugging it over the Carnedd Llewellyn range and down to the base of the climb never mind attempting to climb 330m metres of rock with it attached to me.
This was only my third ever day out climbing.
Slow and steady wins the race, yes?
The first pitch started went well, steady and relatively straight forward from what I can remember. You see, that was the least challenging and only dry part of the day.
I can’t remember if it was the second or third pitch when it started to rain. I do know that I was belaying on a teeny-tiny little ledge with nothing but gravity and along fall beneath me. Clearly I was perfectly safe as BG had set up a stunning little anchor with a sling and the usual stop-your-girlfriend-dying gear.
I was mentally uncomfortable. I thought I was uncomfortable with heights but it turns out it’s the fear of falling. This ledge was more than adequate for me to stand up straight and belay but in my head it felt like it was 10cm square and that I was going to step back and die. Dramatic, I know. It had just started to rain but there’s no way I was faffing getting waterproofs out of my backpack while balancing on the tiniest ledge in the whole world even if I was clipped in to all the safety equipment in the world.
So I belayed leaning slightly forward and to the right. All the weight was on my right foot because the tiny imaginary 10cm ledge I was teetering on didn’t have enough room for both my feet and there’s no way that a sling could hold my fall. It could, but I didn’t believe it.
After what seemed like forever and a completely cramped up right side it was finally time for me to move from my death ledge and continue climbing. And as I did the rain got heavier. My waterproofs were still in my bag but I was determined to take BG’s advice and take it steady. The rock had become terribly slippery and I was now very wet. I had got to a part of the climb where I could see BG and this is were the rock challenged me to a fight. I had the climb onto the shallowest of slabs, the slab that had now become a slippery chunk of defensive rock and I slipped and landed on on my shins. That hurt. Up I got to try again and down I went, again. It hurt. Again. It really hurt and I was cold and wet and I cursed. A lot.
I got back up and met BG on the biggest, fattest party ledge and changed into dry and waterproof clothes. It was still raining. It was cold. It was high up. And it was about to get a bit more challenging thanks to the crux of the climb. It was polished, it was soaking wet and we were having a little pre-Alps practise in B2 mountain boots.
BG got up the crux with a lot of cursing and a few attempts as I stood there trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get up there as well. Then it was my turn. I slipped off the rock at least for times before getting on it properly. At one point I did ask what we would actually do if I couldn’t get up as going down wasn’t the easiest option either. Mountain rescue? Mountain rescue coming to get two idiots off the face of a cold Welsh mountain? No thank you.
I swear that whenever I look back to the crux I still can’t believe I got up it. By then I had forgotten about the extra weight from the backpack and the fact I squatted my way around to the right had side of what felt like a sheer drop. Did I mention it was wet? That next little bit was so slippery that I needed help in getting hauled up.
The next bit held a little bit of hope for something easier. Scrambling! Still exhausting in the wet. We got to the gendarmes and went around to the left of them, BG went ahead up and over some rock and all I could hear was cursing. I thought we had done the worst of it. It was supposed to be scrambling. I couldn’t see over the top, I couldn’t see around, once again I was stood on a ledge wondering what was over the other side that was causing a hold up. Traversing pinnacles that’s what. Over the rock, down the other side, traverse through a gap and then across the pinnacles. Easy as that. And it was. No fear about the heights anymore.
The last parts of the climb seemed to go on forever. It was still raining and had been for about 5 hours. It was cold. It was getting a little bit draining. There was 60m left and 60m is a really long way when your cold and wet and just want to get to the top. We continued, belaying with cold hands on a cold, wet rope makes it less enjoyable but you just have to man-the-hell-up and get on with it.
We got to another bit of the climb and BG headed up first and there was this bit of rock that was being a real bitch to get over. I stood there freezing, trying to work it out for myself, determined not to get stuck too. I was tired and didn’t want anymore challenges. There was some more cursing from above as BG’s bag got stuck as he was going up. I was still cold. I was still staring at that real bitch of a rock that stood in front of me. Then BG shouted down and it was the best thing I’d ever heard. He was at the top!
I have never climbed so quickly in all of my life. That real bitch of a rock had nothing on me. I was practically sprinting vertically. I wanted the top so bad that BG couldn’t tighten the rope quick enough as I flew up. I wanted the top.
And then I was there. It just appeared. It was the coldest, windiest, rainiest and most welcome top of a climb/mountain I had ever experienced. I was at the top of what had been a very long 7 hour, 330m climb.
My third outdoor climb ever.
The walk back to the car was long but euphoric. The day had certainly been a massive achievement for me. Every step I took on that walk back was a little uncomfortable as I could feel that the shins had taken a battering on those falls. But it didn’t matter as there was the cosiest little mountaineering club cottage waiting for us.
Complete with log burner, red wine and homemade chilli. Perfect.