Tuesday, 23 October 2007


Yesterday (Monday), Fisher and I took advantage of an introductory deal at A Vertical World in Dundee, and headed off for our first ever climbing experience. We dithered over whether to go, because we've been meaning to go with Phid for ages and didn't want to leave her out - but then decided the offer was too good pass up, and recognised that with everyone's schedules being what they are, if we wait we may never get to go at all!

So off we pootled for a private lesson. I expected our instructor to be a 'rock on!' kind of guy, with long hair and a bandanna - or else a wiry Dundonian who took no crap from nobody and once killed a man in 'Nam. In 1995. I was rather pleased when I discovered our guide was, in fact, a very slight young woman - although I was a bit concerned about someone her size belaying someone mine. When, on the form we had to fill out, it asked if I had any medical conditions that might prevent me from climbing, I confessed that I was quite fat. Would that matter?

She assured me it would not. And, as a hurried afterthought, said she'd instructed - and belayed - people much bigger, fatter and hairier than me. Thus reassured, we got ourselves kitted out in hideously uncomfortable harnesses, and even more hideously uncomfortable shoes. Our first challenge was 'bouldering' - climbing small walls over crash mats to get our muscles 'warmed up.' After spidering my way to the top of two walls, my muscles were certainly warm! My fingers and forearms were already protesting a little, and I badly cricked my neck (an old, persistent problem I've wrestled with for many years) meaning my left shoulder was immediately sore. Not enough to trouble me, though, so on we went to the first proper wall.

Our instructor, whose name I have forgotten so will call - er - Instructor - showed us how to tie our ropes in a double figure of 8, and then it was Fisher's turn to battle the first 30 foot wall. This she did with aplomb, looking like she was born to the sport, and was back on the ground before you could say boo to a goose. (Why would anyone say boo to a goose? What would this achieve? Very strange.) My turn next, and what with my fear of heights and everything I was a little nervous. Not to worry, though. Once I was actually on the wall, there was too much to occupy my time to concern myself with plummetting to my death. I found the climb relatively problem free, but it was incredibly hard on my fingers and my forearms were pretty tired by the time I reached the top. Back to earth, we moved straight on to the next wall. This was slightly trickier, but we both managed tolerably well. I was lucky to find a good route, and climbed to the top quite quickly - according to Instructor. It didn't feel that quick to me, or my now trembling fingers.

Without a stop for a breather, we moved onto wall number three - and this time we were told to belay each other. Instructor showed us the 5 positions of belaying, which I will now attempt to remember. Ahem.

1. Pull rope UP with right hand, tightening slack.
2. Pull rope DOWN with right hand, putting 'brakes' on.
3. Move left hand to top of lower rope, above right hand.
4. Slide right hand up beneath left hand.
5. Replace left hand on top rope, as start position.

Easy. Except with the rate Fisher started bombing up the third wall, and my natural kack-handedness, I started quite poorly. Naturally Fisher was never in danger as Instructor had hold of the brake rope as well, and I quickly got the hang of it, so all was well. When Fisher reached the top, I lowered her none too gently to the ground. Being cautious, I took rather too long about it and didn't give her as much slack as she needed, which meant the harness cut uncomfortably into her tender regions!

Then it was my turn to climb. Fisher belayed without difficulty, but by this stage my fingers and arms were really suffering. I spent a long time battling this wall, and once we'd finished I didn't think I'd ever be able to grip anything again for as long as I live! Instructor suggested we take a break, reminding us that because we were having a private lesson it was much more full on than if we were there with a group, when you have a chance to rest for longer between each climb. This made me feel slightly less effete - until I attempted to open a can of coke and discovered my fingers didn't even have the strength to perform this paltry task!

After a ten minute breather we were back on the walls - this time tackling a corner wall, which we both found very tricky, and took a long time conquering. Nevertheless we both succeeded in making the top - Fisher making some remarkable noises in her exertion - and returned to earth well pleased. By this time our hour and a half was almost up, and we had one more wall to tackle. This one had an overhang you had to get over, and it was almost the beating of Fisher. It took her ages, but she persevered and reached the top, straining every muscle in order to do so. A fantastic effort! You were supposed only to use the black holds, and apart from a few 'cheats' she managed to stick to the route pretty well.

Then it was my turn. I set off with a will, reaching the overhang and getting over it without too much trouble. Then I simply couldn't go further. My fingers wouldn't hold me up, and my forearms had just had enough. I couldn't reach a decent hand-hold, or balance myself properly with my feet, and after slipping off the wall twice I just had to admit defeat. Fisher lowered a furious me to the ground - and then leaned too far forward and found herself being lifted off the ground by my greater weight. This did nothing to improve my mood as I dropped outwith her control, but luckily I was close enough to the ground for it not to be a problem (and Instructor was there also).

My failure on the last wall quite spoiled the whole thing for me. Silly, certainly, but seeing Fisher conquer it after such a monumental effort only made my failure all the greater. I was livid with myself, and utterly baffled to explain why my fingers and arms were all but unusable while hers were relatively unaffected. She says she doesn't really rely on them, barely using them at all in fact, save as supports. I pull myself up and cling on, using a great deal of upper body strength, which I suppose must be going about it the wrong way. However, I don't really see how else to go about it. I can't just use my legs - my balance doesn't allow it. Whenever I tried to push up using only my legs I found myself in danger of falling. I had to have something to pull myself up with by hand.

Hey ho. It was galling to feel so like a failure, and so shown up by Fisher, but in the cold light of day I don't think it was as bad as all that. I managed all the other walls fine, and enjoyed myself quite a lot - so I'll definitely be returning.

Watch this space.