Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Hanging in there. . .

As I write this the palms of my hands are burning and my forearms are throbbing. All signs of a good climbing session. Even my fingers ache as I move, attempt to move, them across the keyboard.

I've been climbing for about a year now, on and off once a week, with the Husband and a couple of friends from work. I am the only girl and as such there aren't really any expectations that I have the same strength and reach as the boys but that doesn't mean I get let off lightly either.

I get half way, to three quarters, up a wall and my arms feel like lead. It's chalk and sweat holding me there and I slide. Swinging out and dangling like a spider hanging off a ceiling- although with slightly less grace. There is a safe feeling. I am going no where. I am high off the ground, the rope being held securely by my belay buddy. I can swing and dangle for as long as it takes for the blood to rush back to my finger tips. Before reaching out and trying again to reach the top. I wont get down unless they are truly convinced that I have given it my best shot.

Part of the enjoyment comes from the strategy that is demanded from you. Working routes out, where to place your feet, how best to grip the holds. And it's not necessarily about the speed, its about being able to reach and trust in your self that you have the ability to hold, push and pull yourself up. The only person your working against is yourself.

In my case this can prove to be quite an emotional experience. You see, although I have a love of climbing I also have a fear of heights. This seems in complete contraction- to love indoor climbing and yet fear heights. It is a fairly difficult contradiction to try and explain but I am going to give it a go.

When the fear starts I can feel my heart racing, like its trying to make a bid for freedom out of my chest and onto the solid ground. I don't feel like I am in control, I am completely helpless. It's not that I don't trust the belayer- they are well aware of my little freak outs and do keep a close eye on me when I am up there. But I can't catch my breath. Unable to breathe and heart pounding, my throat then decides to join in the climbing protest and close up. I can't swallow but it doesn't matter because I am struggling to breathe so it'll be over soon. I'll be lowered to the ground a still, blue corpse!

But of course this doesn't happen. When my heart feels like it can't possibly beat any faster it seems to realise that its pointless trying and slows down. My brain decides to re-engage and I start to climb, focusing on "The sooner you get to the top the sooner you can get down".

This feeling will happen at least once a week. So, why do I put myself through it? I enjoy the view at the top? I like the drama of the freak out because it makes me feel like I am alive (what with being so close to death)?

I can't really explain it. I take pride in the fact that when I reach the top its been under my own steam. I have done this! I love the feeling that there has been a hold that I didn't think I could make and I make it. That I have been able to pull myself up with a strength I didn't know I had.  I think perhaps it brings out my inner child (who was a tree climbing fanatic). The conflict is the adult and child trying to make their presence known at the same time.

The thing about climbing is that it is accessible to any-one. Tonight I watched a 7 year kid lead climb up 15 meters. We've been top rope climbing for a year, I still freak out and yet this little boy is totally without fear raced up a 15 meter wall. Weighing about 4 stone and without any muscle what so ever. On reflection it might not have been a child at all but a tiny climbing robot....

I ache in new and interesting ways, far more challenging to a legs, bums and tums class. Tomorrow I wont be able to take a shower or wash my hands without wincing at the incredible burning sensation. And from my finger tips to the back of my shoulders will be sure to let me know of all the various muscles involved in writing an email, making a phone call or moving a mouse.

But I will go again next week. To stand in a freezing quarry. Feel my neck stiffen as I watch Husband and friends climb up and remind my hands that skin will toughen up as I belay and climb my way to the top.

I have my own little walls that prove to be like fighting a dragon- horrific- but I will do them. I will push through the feel of fear that will flood through my body. I will wait and it will pass and I will keep climbing until it is defeated!!

Courtesy of*

* I would love to say this was us. But it's not. It's also lead climbing which we can't do, yet! We have reached this height though.


  1. Love this post. Himself is thinking of going climbing this weekend while I stay at home and bake - something wrong with that picture - I don't bake.

  2. I dreamt on Monday night that I climbed Mt Blanc, woke up with really sore arms - I'm blaming you. Was also disturbed to find a car park at the top - if I'd known you could drive!!!