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:
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.
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.
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.