Tied Up and On My Back: What's It Like To Be a Rock Climbing Virgin?
'I'd never really thought about bondage before...'
Taking up climbing aged 47 may sound like a really stupid idea, but then when is a good time to think clinging to a wall of rock is a sensible pastime?
I’m sure age had a part to play in my decision to try climbing. I can’t do any of the usual mid-life crisis things. I’ve got loads of bicycles - maybe too many. I’ve been riding motorcycles for years, and the sports car is out ‘cause I haven’t got a licence. So, climbing it was then.
A bit of internet searching later and I’d found an indoor climbing wall relatively close to home. A quick phone call and two days later I rocked up to, what looked from the outside like a regular farmyard barn. However, inside was the bouldering room of the climbing centre.
The walls were lined with artificial rock faces that appeared to be populated by hordes of small children. Seeing them happily scrabbling up and down the walls made me think "how hard can this be?". Then I remembered; they’re young and have no fear.
"it’s a good job there was a mat below, waiting for me"
Fortunately, the taster session I’d booked included time with an instructor. She pointed me towards one wall that has bright pink blobs scattered across it, thicker than my teenage acne ever was.
First hand on the wall and I was off. Almost without realising I was at the top. Cool. Then I realised I had to get back down again somehow. Let’s just say it’s a good job there was a 30cm thick crash mat below, waiting to caress me.
My indignity was then further amplified when the instructor told me the hand and foot holds are colour-coded and pink is the easiest.
I was told to try the same climb, but just using the harder graded hand holds. I reached for a hold that further away than I realised and thump. I was swiftly reunited with the crash mat again.
You know that saying pride comes before a fall? No, I never really understood it either. I do now.
"stuck an arm’s length from the top, I couldn’t go up and couldn’t go down."
Despite this, I was starting to really enjoy myself by this point, and began to realise how fit real climbers are. The sweat was pouring off me, and my arms, shoulders, and fingers were all screaming.
At least, this was the excuse I used for being unable to scale the last section of wall with a ninety-degree overhang. In my head, I visualised myself doing it. My body, however, was having none of it.
I simply couldn’t hold on with my fingertips while swinging my leg out and around to try and get round the overhang. Every time I tried, I’d find myself flat out on the crash mats, staring helplessly up at the wall above me.
Sensing my frustration, the instructor suggested we move next door and try some rope climbing. Once I’d got a harness on and the rope attached, she told me, it wasn’t possible to fall.
This was because she’d be taking up the slack as I climbed using a special widget designed to hold the rope in place until she released it.
First though, I had to get into the harness and pull it tight. I must admit, I’d never really thought about bondage before, but after negotiating the various straps and buckles, I found myself wondering what the attraction is.
Approaching the wall, I felt strangely calm. Maybe it was because I knew what to expect; my fingers would hurt, my arms would ache and I’d undoubtedly get frustrated. Maybe it was the fact I knew that if I did lose my grip, I wouldn’t fall.
The next thing I knew I was at the top of the wall, and being asked “Do you want to climb down, or just let go and get used to the feeling of falling with the rope holding you safely?"
It was a daft question. I got it out of the way swiftly. “This easy" I thought to myself. I swung down gently, occasionally putting my feet against the wall, leaning back and just walking down backwards as the instructor’s let the rope out.
Filled with confidence, I made my way up and down the next section. I even worked my way up a reverse incline. Trouble soon came, however, when I tried using just one colour of hand holds.
Over confidence struck again, and I found myself stuck just an arm’s length from the top; couldn’t go up and couldn’t get myself down. It’s a good job that rope was holding me there.
By the time I did get down, my session on the wall was up, but I was already planning my next visit. The end of the session was well timed though, as my body couldn’t have taken much more punishment. It was only the adrenalin rushing through my veins that kept the pain in my muscles at bay.
“I will be back on the wall. I definitely will." I promise myself. Well, just as soon as my muscles stop hurting and the bruises on my knees fade.