When it comes to climbing, I’ve always been a boulder woman. There’s less equipment (just the shoes and your wit), you don’t need a partner and you don’t go as high. Then one day I remembered the point of it all: to climb outdoors, where you can lose yourself, and the air smells like grass rather than a cocktail of sweat. While you can boulder outdoors, if you’re not a very good climber you’ll get more of a challenge top-roping. And I’m not very good; whenever I think hard about how high I am, my courage fails.
Since top-roping has an insurance system, with one person stationed at the foot of the wall, acting as a counterweight, or belay, should you fall, I thought it might make me a little, er, bolder. I’ve already done the course, which lasts a day and qualifies you to use a wall without supervision (if you haven’t qualified to climb unsupervised, and nor has your belay, you will need to book a lesson).
My belay was a friend, by which I mean the son of a guy I met once at a conference. I have a problem asking for help at the best of times; asking a near-stranger to save my life would be completely beyond my social skills. But you don’t have to ask, you just have to fall off a wall; the belay will have exactly the right amount of slack in the rope that connects you both to let you climb the wall, then stop you falling all the way to the floor. So you do have to concentrate when it’s your turn on the ground; you can’t just do a spelling bee in your head.
Sessions start with the harness, two hoops that go round each thigh as if in answer to the problem: “My legs don’t look enough like sausages.” There’s a lot of emphasis on getting this right, and climbers constantly inspect each other’s attachments as if they are very advanced chimpanzees.
At the easiest levels, the climb follows a very intuitive path. You spend barely any time figuring out what to do next, which is good, because the less breathing space I have to realise how high I am, the more likely I am to get to the top. You’re not hanging off the rope, or getting any gravity-help from it. It’s a placebo effect, but that’s the best kind.
Mainly through embarrassment, I got to the top of the wall on the first climb, then never repeated that gigantic achievement. Potential shame is only motivational once. There’s probably an MBA module in that.
I will do this, and do this again, until I’ve tried an actual mountain.
What I learned
Once you’ve been taught how to tie your rope, practise every day – even with just a piece of string – until you can’t even remember not knowing how to do it. It’s like a pin number – it will vanish without repetition
• To find a climbing wall near you, go to thebmc.co.uk