Not climbing until Friday this week so nothing really to report. However, I’ve just posted a reply to someone on a forum thread and it has inspired me to go a little off track.
The guy who started the thread was asking for advice on taking someone with a fear of heights climbing. In view of the fact that I started in exactly the same way I offered a little help and thought that it may be a good idea to expand on that and share my experiences in a little more detail.
As I have outlined in my intro, I was introduced to climbing by my walking buddy in the hope of easing my fear of heights and exposure. I could have just booked in for a beginner’s course with an instructor but fortunately for me and my wallet, my mate is a very experienced climber. He has taken me from putting on a harness for the first time, right up to where I am currently, having completed a few 6a and 6a+ routes indoors and leading my first indoor grade 3.
I am certain that my progress and confidence are mainly due
to his excellent instruction and manner. From the very first time that I sat back in my harness, five feet off the ground, he has made me feel comfortable. To illustrate what he was dealing with, even after I had been climbing for a couple of months, I struggled to walk along the top of a wide stone wall, no more than 5ft high! It would be very easy for him, as a person with no fear, to take the mickey or get frustrated with me. Had he done that, I probably would have given up straight away. Instead he has shown incredible patience and calmly encouraged me to progress.
The first trip that we did was to Birchen Edge in the Peak District, figuring that it was pobably better for me to get my hands on some easy rock first to break the ice. The whole process was explained to me in a non patronising way and I felt comfortable asking “silly” questions.. For anyone trying this, or anything else, for the first time, it is always important to ask about anything that you are unsure of. Everyone had to learn at some stage and it’s better to ask when you are stood on the deck, rather than when you are dangling 20ft up! I was involved in choosing the route, fixing the belay, tying in etc. Nothing was left to the imagination, so I knew exactly what I was dealing with.
My first time belaying was a bit scary but the fact that he was prepared to put his life in my hands, gave me loads of confidence. Not least because it was kind of imperative that I got it right, you have to learn quickly when you have your mate dangling above you . After all, if I dropped him it would be very bad as I didn’t know where he’d put his car keys and I was a long way from home!
After that first trip I was given a list of books to read, this was also very handy, reinforcing all of the things that had seemed to blur in that adrenaline fuelled first lesson!
Six months on and we climb together once a week indoors and out on the crags when work and family allows. Despite the, still vast, differences in experience, we have a very comfortable but never complacent partnership. The level of understanding is almost subconcious, if I ever start to feel a bit jittery when I’m at height, I will often feel the rope take in ever so slightly. This happens without me saying a word.
Considering that Si (I had better give him a “credit”) is not a qualified instructor, I honestly beleive that I wouldn’t have acheived as much taking lessons from a stranger.
I’m really not trying to inflate anyone’s ego here, just trying to illustrate some of the points that have benefited me in the hope that others can use them to their advantage.
In summary, if you are learning, get invovled and ask questions as much as possible. If you are teaching a friend, be patient and calm at all times and don’t put on any undue pressure. It worked for me and Si. As for my fear of exposure, still to be tested unroped on an exposed ridge! Watch this space…