Another Mountain, More Panic

OK, so the title may be slightly dramatic. It makes it sound as though some epic adventure occurred, probably involving a blizzard and a bivvy. Unfortunately, this is basically just the story of how I got so scared on a climb we were forced to bail, and how I (possibly) ruined my boyfriend’s holiday.
To set the scene. We are in Spain in December, all very excited for a bit of winter sun. We check the weather forecast-rain and storms for three days with one dry day. Oh well, flights are booked now, not much can be done. We settle down for three days of watching climbing films imagining ourselves as the stars in the hope that our one dry day will provide us with good climbing, sun, and summits.
We did manage one day of climbing in the rain, in a cave in Gandìa, near Valencia (this did basically involve a group of us trying very hard on routes we were never going to be able to climb clean, even with liberal use of a clip-stick, but that’s another story).
So, with very few completed climbs to our (my) names during our time in Spain, we planned to climb the Puig Campana, a 1,406m peak just outside Finestrat. We rose early, left the house at 6.30 to walk to the base of the climb and arrive as the sun rose to start the 13 pitch climb. The plan was to simul climb the first three pitches of easy-ish scrambling to reach the belay point for pitch 4, where we would then swing lead, topping out around 2pm, making the 3 hour walk back to the car before dark. As you may have guessed, this particular climb did not go to plan.
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Sunrise from the base of the climb
We racked up with stunning views of sunrise, clear skies allowing us to see all the way to the sea and across the mountains inland. Ate the ever important Snickers bar for early morning energy and headed up.
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Getting in some food before heading off

It turns out, simul climbing easy terrain was, to me, much, much scarier than leading a pitch. Rob (the boyfriend)  went ahead, with me to follow roughly 20 metres behind, taking out his gear I passed it. I was not far off the ground when I realised the new backpack I was wearing, when containing Rob’s walking boots and in combination with my helmet, did not allow me to lift my head upwards. This is problematic for two reasons:

1. You cannot lift your head to see where you are going when travelling in an upwards direction
2. It makes it much harder to make yourself heard when shouting to your partner
I think it’s fair to say that these issues don’t make for pleasant climbing, but the first pitch was completed with relatively little drama. As the terrain got steeper, not being able to lift my head to look for holds became more of a challenge. Now I need to say that this was still very easy climbing, in fact the whole route was well within my comfort zone on an average day, but the fact that I potentially still had 4 hours of this was starting to get to me. Being unable to see where I was going properly was starting to get to me. The fact that I was aware I was not on belay, but in fact simul climbing was starting to get to me. I think it’s fair to say that I started to get quite scared.
As ‘the fear’ started to creep in, I found myself calling to Rob for reassurance more often, and my eyes started leaking (OK, I was crying). In the beginning I got supportive ‘you can do it’s and ‘there is a good jug there’s, but eventually the patience from my climbing partner started to wear thin. I could hear the anxiety to get going in his voice, which added to my own anxiety about the climb, all neatly spiralling into a pit of despair and panic (from me).
At this point, Rob is somewhat unaware of the fact that I am on the verge of a full blown panic attack. I call up to him to stop, and ask him if he can build an anchor and put me on belay, and at the earliest possible point, he obliges. When I reach him, it is fair to say that I was no longer on the verge of an attack, but very firmly in the midst of it. At this point we reassess the plan, finally with me making the call that it would not be wise to continue (‘I can’t…do…it…I can’t….do…’).
Now comes the dilemma of getting off a mountain which you are already 130m up, with no bolts or handily placed abseil points, and one person crying uncontrollably. We spot a tree about a 5m traverse away, which looks like it could be a safe place to abseil from. This starts the faff of me pulling myself together and belaying Rob across, him belaying me across, and us setting up an abseil. All things considered this is going very smoothly.  When I reach the ledge with the tree, I decide that I’m now not moving, I am safe anchored on a ledge and he can just leave me there forever. He said no.
I go first and wait for Rob at the bottom of the rope, on a ledge, where we scramble to the bottom. Yes I happily (sort of) scrambled the first part of the climb with no rope, yes, I know my head doesn’t make sense sometimes. When we reach the base, Rob turns to me and says ‘No offence, but I’m never doing a multi pitch with you ever again.’ (Just what you want to hear, right?)
The walk to the car took longer than expected due to us getting lost (common theme I know), but we did make it safely back, and I was told we were allowed to climb together again after all. We headed off to a sport crag to join some friends and get some climbing done before dark. Queue happy ending.
I learnt a lot on this trip.
1. Don’t take unused or untested gear (like bags) up a huge multi pitch on their first go, they might be rubbish
2. ALWAYS take a piece of tat and a couple of prussics in case you find yourselves in a sticky situation
3. MAPS ARE USEFUL!!!
4. Your boyfriend will very quickly forgive you for having to back down off a climb if you get ‘the fear’
5. If you have an anxiety disorder, don’t forget to take your meds before you head off
I do hear the view from the top is spectacular though. Next time.
puig-view
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A Mine, a Mountain and a Mishap

A new year is a brilliant excuse to look back on the last. Mine was less than boring. I have been fortunate enough to have some very, very memorable experiences, most falling firmly in the type-two -fun category.

Where to begin. Last year was the year I finally learnt that teachers weren’t lying when they said Wikipedia wasn’t a valid source of information on its own. It’s also the year I spent about 10 hours lost down a mine in Snowdonia, arriving home at 4.30am. Yes, these things are related.

We started the day very hungover, and very optimistic, leaving our accommodation in North Wales around mid day (already optimistic, I know), in order to enter the mine at 1pm. We estimated the journey would take us approximately 5 hours, and we could be back to the car and make the 4 hour drive home without being too late. Oh were we wrong.

I have vivid memories of painfully dragging myself halfway up a mountain to the entrance as half the group powered on ahead, obviously not as affected by the previous nights escapades as our small group dragging ourselves behind. Once we had found the beginning, we stopped briefly for lunch, aware that this was the last time we would see sunlight for several hours, and entered.

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Entering the mine

The start of the journey went well, abseiling into the pitch black abyss of a giant cavern, scrambling along to reach a huge underground lake. The instructions apparently stated that we could zip-wire along a cable to the other side. Issue number 1- the wire was damaged in the middle, so crossing entailed going hand- over- hand to the middle, lifting ourselves up to take the weight off our gear, reattaching to the other half of the wire and continuing. Not a big deal right? Right. Although at this point we should maybe have realised that the instructions weren’t all that accurate.

There were minor tears of terror (exclusively from me) when I realised that I had to balance across a wobbly rotten beam across a flooded mine shaft, faff when having to ascend a rope and realising two of the party didn’t know how, but nothing compared to the moment we realised we couldn’t find the exit. It’s at times like these when you truly get to know people. We had all of the panicked clichés, the overly chatty one, the one who always tried to make people laugh, the leader, the silent one (me), and the one who seemed unaffected.

We eventually managed to scramble towards a hole in the roof, towards the now dark sky. The relief in reaching the surface was instantly visible on everyone’s faces. That is until we realised we were now stuck above ground, in a slate quarry, with no exit, in the rain. Those of you that have climbed on slate will know that it isn’t easy at the best of times, and when wet resembles trying to climb up a bin-bag covered in soap. So, naturally, we climbed. Damon got sent up first as he ‘had the most climb-y shoes on’. Once at the top, he proceeded to make, perhaps one of the least legit anchors I have seen, but the best we could do, in order to belay the rest of us up. The next member of the team went up, and on reaching the top was told to sit on the boulder being used as an anchor- not a reassuring thing to hear as you are about to climb. As we each went up, we added our bodies to the makeshift anchor, until the last member of the team was up.

We now realised that we were on the top of a mountain with no map, no GPS and no way of knowing where the car was. This is the first and only time I have ever seen anyone successfully find the north star, and navigate from there. All we knew was that we had to head east, and so began a very dark (at this point very few of us had working head torches), very hungry, trek back to the car.

By the time I got home, I had to start work in two hours, and so called them to let them know I probably wouldn’t make it. I told them I had got lost in a mine, and had only just got in, to which the person on the phone said ‘Oh…Ok’. And that was that. I think it is fair to say that the whole adventure was ill-advised and slightly stupid, but it is also one of my most memorable experiences of the outdoors, so make of that what you will.

Hello!

This is my first ever venture into blogging. For the most part, this blog is for me, to document the more interesting things that I get up to. It will mostly be filled with climbing stories, mistakes, and often a combination of the two.

I am in no way an exceptional climber, in fact I would say that my ability falls firmly into the ‘average’ category, and yet I enjoy telling stories, and figure you don’t need to be making epic first ascents, climbing un-climbed mountains, or competing at a national level to be able to write about your experiences. Climbing is just something I enjoy, not something I will ever win awards for, which really puts me in the majority of the people in the sport.

I hope that if you are reading this, you enjoy it, and are perhaps inspired to get outside and climb. I know that I don’t do this nearly as much as I should, but somehow work, and the great British weather seems to get in the way much more than I would like.