A voice behind me piped up cheerfully: “Here are my lucky nuts, Gunni.” I choked on my muesli…
It was the morning of the first day of the beginner’s follow on meet and I was innocently sitting outside my tent having breakfast. Having tentatively put the word around that I was hoping to start leading some easy routes soon, Caroline had very kindly offered me some of her surplus gear to get my rack started. However, as this conversation had been had a) some time ago and b) over a pint in the pub, I hadn’t expected her to remember. But here she was, true to “Madame Pres” form, crab with the lucky nuts in hand and looking very surprised at the sight of me with milk dribbling down my chin… There was no getting out of it now, was there? Me and my big mouth…
Though I had studied the guidebook for the area carefully beforehand and had marked some suitable – or so I thought – 1st leads, the masses of climbers present at that day’s chosen venue, The Roaches, meant that I didn’t actually succeed in leading anything that day. I still managed to second several nice routes, though, and enjoyed some great climbing. So, lucky nuts dangling unused off my harness, I retreated back to the car that evening, feeling a mixture of disappointment at not accomplishing my objective for the day and (ok, I admit it only to you) a little relief at not having had any difficult lead situations to deal with, as, of course, I wasn’t nervous about my first proper lead AT ALL.
True to Staffordshire spec, the next morning dawned a bit grey and breezy. And things were to get worse… No more spilt milk actually, but Johnboy announcing cheerfully that the chosen venue for our group for the day was in fact Hencloud, as he wanted to meet up there with Nick, who – since leaving the flatlands of Suffolk for sunny Sheffield in the summer – is now a “crag local” (who said we’d be bitter??). Well, the routes at Hencloud have a reputation for being hard for the grade, the whole crag is much more exposed and there aren’t more than a handful of easy routes. So I mentally prepared myself for a day belaying and bonding with my duvet jacket.
Cue the ever-supportive Clio, who was having none of it. Once arrived at the crag, but not before giving a very impressive and gutsy performance trying to lead “Reunion Crack”, a VS 5a**, she bullied me (in the nicest possible way) into trying the very short and low grade “Chockstone Crack” as a first lead. Well, talking of trying to get off the ground! I just couldn’t do it and felt disillusioned and desperately sorry for Clio and Steve, who were trying their best to talk me up the rock, all the while getting colder and colder and probably thinking “What IS she doing? This is a “Mod”!. I was a little happier when Steve tried the first few moves himself and agreed that for someone my height they were hard and maybe we should move onto another route instead (no offence taken, I always knew that one day being a shortarse would come in handy). So, off we all trundled to find Johnboy and Nick, who were climbing at the other end of the crag. Right, I thought, this weekend’s plan is going nowhere…
A quick check of my pack produced some much-needed sustenance and a can of Red Bull. I can only put it down to this liquid refreshment (and, ok, a little more bullying from Clio) that I soon found myself gearing up to lead “The Arête”, a superb looking 30m long HVD***. Well, what can I say: while Clio belayed me, Steve soloed up beside me to give hints and moral support (which was MUCH appreciated), I placed every bit of gear I had and then some, thoroughly enjoyed the experience and finally topped out with a big whoop. What a feeling! Having set up the belay I quickly brought Clio up. I am certain that by that time she well and truly regretted her earlier persistence as she had got quite cold belaying me and was now having to take my rather well placed gear out as well. Luckily, the stiff breeze took all swearwords, which might have been muttered, away before they could reach my delicate ears. Seeing as my grin went all the way round my head at that time, I probably wouldn’t have heard that well anyway. Eventually Clio joined me and Steve, we broke down the belay and set off down the crag – the perma-smile still plastered across my face and the lucky nuts dangling happily off my harness, this time used and abused.
Now, why exactly I bottled out of leading an 11m short route, graded at a mere “Moderate”, to then successfully lead an “HVD” route three times as high an hour later, only God and the makers of Red Bull will be able to answer. All I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed my first “proper” lead and for this reason my thanks go to:
Caroline – for the kind surrender of the lucky nuts
Steve – for reassuring me all the way up
Clio – for being the nicest bully I know
The makers of Red Bull – for giving me wings
Bring on the summer – the lucky nuts and I are ready! (And I will remember to bring something non-spillable for breakfast as well as plenty of “liquid wings”!)