I touched rock again in March and didn’t come up in a rash so I tried it again… and again. I’m still in the grip of addiction and not prepared to go cold turkey, so instead I’m walking backwards towards it with my eyes closed – like some children’s game in a weird dream. In this way maybe neither of us will notice and it’ll all be alright: sweetness and light, like before.
My approach (backwards) is also to pretend I haven’t climbed much before: to do the easy (and fun) stuff all over again to rediscover the delights and soft fragrant places of the sport ; not to go to the door-slamming-in-the-face place, the desperate arguments and sulks. It’s about establishing a different relationship.
So I closed my eyes and went to:
The Peak District – Northerly wind howling across the moor, Mediterranean sun blazing at the foot of the spines of rock that lie along the brown hills. Gritstone climbing is so totally different to limestone vertical play that I was destined to be an amateur there – which should have been just right for the backward approach. But I was affronted by how different and my southern drawl could be heard complaining across the crag: ‘This isn’t climbing, it’s caving.’ How the Sheffielders smirked. The delicacy of the limestone dance on rock is usurped by the inelegant thrust, thrutch and squirm of grit as various body parts are inserted in the many cracks and chimneys. ‘This is stupid’, I declared, forgetting all about the soft fragrant places.
My indignation grew and then peaked during a V Diff that required me to face away from the cliff and shift my arse and feet up an unprotected corner. ‘Backwards but not forwards’, I thought ruefully.
And progress wasn’t helped by a serious fall about 20 metres away from where we were climbing, requiring an ambulance helicopter and mountain rescue team. The unsaid thought was unearthed: ‘Why do we do this?’
Goblin Coombe, Somerset: Among the ticks and biting ants I almost frolicked up a blocky limestone arête – rediscovering the dance in a small way and loving the rock. (So there was a point to grit.) Any other progress was limited by a series of mini epics involving my partner that day including a slip/fall, a dropped belay device and a stuck abseil rope. The best bit of the day was scrambling up and down a dirty, dusty, steep gully twice to relieve the situation. ‘Maybe scrambling is the way forward?’ I wondered.
South Wales. Porthcawl: Box Bay on an almost sunny day, away from the ever persistent cold wind. I felt a slight interest in the awkward starts and simple short routes – but I still found the fear creeping around my blind side to take the pleasure away, like an annoying younger brother hanging around on a teenage first date. Two days later there was a day trip to Caswell Bay where children played on the beach and the tide retreated and advanced extravagantly. The sun shone and it was all just right for a lazy day on the beach, which we weren’t there for. 4 metres up a Hard V Diff I had to stop and breathe. It turned out to be short and sweet, no nasty surprises, so there followed the usual face off – the internal scolding about lack of confidence. We looked eye to eye, no eyes closed stuff. So back to square one.
I opened my eyes, faced front and accepted I’d totally forgotten where I put my mojo, so when I got home I put out an appeal by email for help in finding it…