Biography: From 0 to slate
Climbing is not like chips. If you have more chips you feel full and want to stop eating. Climbing is like heroin. The more you have the more deeply addicted you are. As with any addict, no one event led to this tragedy. Here is my story.
Christmas 2012: My sister Alison convinces me to try climbing at Durham Climbing Centre. Within forty minutes dangling around on blue juggy resin holds I am experiencing the beginnings of what will become a serious addiction. At first it is enjoyable and I receive slight praise. I do not realise that I am experiencing a 'gateway' climb which will lead to harder and harder climbs
Early 2013: My partner Tanya and I go to a local roped climbing wall. There we experience the worst introductory belaying session it is possible to have, leaving the attendees more dangerous than before they received instruction. The instructor, who looks like Peter Kaye, tells everyone about some other extreme sports he is 'very, very good' at. This dangerous and unpleasant encounter is not enough to break my now increasing casual use.
Easter 2013 : The visit to the climbing wall is now a permanent fixture of visits to my Mum's. I have already bought two pairs of climbing shoes off the internet. Total rubbish and badly fitting, but cheap!
October 2013: I visits Highball Climbing Centre for the first time. Despite having the worst start ever by leaving my new climbing shoes at home and having to drive back for them, I am impressed and enjoy it. From this point on I will almost invariably climb at least once a week. In hindsight, I could probably have.
October - December 2013: I visits Highball weekly, usually on a daytime. Keeping myself to myself, I wonder who all these people with funny coloured trousers think they are. Realise I am thinking (but luckily not acting) like a twat and have a word with myself.
December 2013: I join Norwich Climbing and Mountaineering Club. Find out I am too late to go on the winter trip to the Cairngorms, but resolve to get some skills training as soon as possible.
January 2014: I book on the Bouldering Booster Course at Highball taught by Juliet Scott. Find it amazing, not least because I starts to use my feet, opening new realms of possibility and ability.
Spring 2014: Juliet brings me on massively in terms of ability and confidence with more courses. I now think I am much better than I am.
This ends when my mate drops me climbing on lead on the indoor wall. Despite falling from three clips up and decking out, I am completely unhurt. I am very cruel to this belay partner- I forgive and reassure him when really he would rather be shouted at. We seek more training.
I also do a winter skills course at Plas-y-Brenin. High quality training is mixed in with an hour of people towing each other around the lawn on old bivvy bags to practise their ice axe arrest. I spasm my back and 'mention' it to the instructor who 'takes it the wrong way.' When we next meet we have an awkward conversation about how the PyB food is better than the baked beans we had expected.
May 2014: I go on the Ready To Rock course at PyB. The course is excellent despite the weather, I enjoy the company of other climbers and pick up crucial skills. It pisses down.
Then immediately after I join NCMC on their annual club Wales trip.
Thus follows the greatest week of my life so far - the week when my son was born is slightly eclipsed because of the exhaustion, distress and general faff of childbirth.
On Sunday night I cannot fins them at the campsite: the tents are all there, but no one is home. I scout through the pubs and cafes of Llanberis, which doesn't take long, and eat my first meal at Pete's: a minted lamb burger. Return to the camp to find everyone there: some relief.
Over the next five days, I boulder in the pass, climb on slate, multipitch up Tryfan East face (Overlapping Rib Route, v.diff) and climb on more slate. The evenings are great, sat around a picnic table we erected a tent around, or cooking curry while sat on boulder mats.
The slate grips me hard, I move from being toproped up Mental Lentils (HVS 5a) and Psychotherapy (E2 5c) to leading Orangutang Overhang (6a+), Gadaffi Duck (6b) and Maximum Tarrif (6b). As I come off being toproped up Looning the Tube, the belayer Lee remarks 'you're taking to this like duck to water'. I feel like I have never had praise like it.
So of course I take it too far.
Looking at the guide book, I see that Turn of the Century is E2 5c which makes it equivalent, if not a step down, from the grades I have just climbing. Right? With hindsight, the tactful enquiries 'are you sure I know what I'm doing with placing gear?' seem obvious. Luckily, my lack of experience at placing gear becomes obvious even to myself within a few metres, and I back off.
Despite everyone saying 'just downclimb' I slither off, slip and am caught by Lee having got myself tangled in the ropes. I receive a rope burn curling across the back of my knee, which even impresses the local lads.
Luckily my trousers are those convertible ones so I am able to leave the wound open to the air, much to the physical disgust of my new friends. More tactful hints about 'would you like a plaster?' are ignored, in favour of allowiing it to ooze through my trousers, or showing off my sloughing wound to the world.
I drive home with a massive grin on my face despite my wound sticking to the car seat and me having to peel myself off the upholstery when I stop for fuel near Oswestry.
The wound is slow to granulate (i.e. go from being nastily full of slough - the gooey yellowy pus-like stuff - to nicely clotty red sugary clots - I am a connoisseur of wounds). I decide to try one of these new colloidal dressings. The healing is unbelievably quick, and the colloidal dressing lives up to the extravagant boasts made on its packaging. Even to the extent of leaving no scar. Which I am gutted about.
A few days later, back at Highball we all meet up again and it feels like a school reunion. I buzz off it for months. There is no going back.