Tuesday, 15 November 2011

First Steps

Rummaging around in my parent’s garage the other day, I stumbled upon a treasuretrove of memories.
A dusty bag full of books yielded the guide I used to hitch around Baja and the map of Fontainbleau I bought on my first trip to the forest. They are little more than a decade old but seemed like relics of a distant past.
As always when finding a cache of books, I abandoned the task at and started leafing through pages, reading extracts and annotations. Then I delved deeper into the bag to unearth the next strata of my personal history.
I was rewarded with pure gold: a copy of the Yorkshire Limestone guide, in glorious hardback and with a young John Dunne “creating a breach of the peace” on the front cover with a riotous cut-loose. This was a doubly auspicious find, because it was the first guidebook I bought and yet remains functional for a climbing area that is coming back into my sights.
I found the Kilnsey pages to see what it made of the routes I did there last year, themselves already distant memories. There was no mention of Wysiwyg, a late addition to fill a gap, but my eye was drawn to a date in faint pencil, denoting my outdoor lead debut. That day I can remember clearly, although why three schoolboys chose one of Britain’s most hard-core sport crags for their first trad outing escapes me. Maybe Jacko’s dad had seen it from the road and noticed the climbers one time, because he gave us a lift out there.
While he waited patiently in the pub, we three went off on an adventure up Inaccessible Gully. It was a short walk but whoever carried the rope - Baz I think - got a raw deal. The hideously bulky old 11mm contrasted with a rather lightweight rack of six hand-me-down hexes on wire and as many quickdraws.
I racked them by clipping one on wire on each extender and set off up the 25 metre pitch, enjoying the new buzz of the sharp end. I don’t remember feeling any fear. I’d read about this sort of thing and was confident I was doing it right.
I always think of the mid-nineties as the heyday of the climbing mag, I guess because that’s when they meant the most to me. We even used to argue about which was best. Baz was a High man and I was an OTE enthusiast.
We used to get all our information from the magazines, which seemed to be full of the bolting debate in those days. Reading the lofty editorials and Ken Wilson’s fire-and-brimstone contributions to the letters pages left no doubt in our impressionable minds that we must take sides. Randomly, I picked trad, and decided I would be the purest of the pure.
So it was that I advanced up what is quite a steep HVS that day, delicately placing the hexes in slots without weighing them in the slightest, even to test or seat them. Thus protected primarily by my own sense of righteousness, I confidently advanced to the halfway belay, which was fortunately at a large tree. Had it required the placing of gear, I doubt I’d be writing this today, because all by other protection had fallen out behind me. This was pointed out by the lads later, as it had never occurred to me to look down and check.
Baz clawed his way off route on the second pitch, clinging to steep grass without the luxury of any gear, an experience which may later have led to his becoming a boulderer. But I was elated with my lead, although a dawning understanding of the dangers meant it would be a few of years before I lead HVS with as much confidence again. Perhaps if I look hard enough I can find my teenage sense of invulnerability in and old trunk somewhere as well - it would come in handy.

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Cheers, Dom.