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Scared of heights, Dad's old climbing shoes and a girl!

Image for article Scared of heights, Dad's old climbing shoes and a girl!

Despite my years working as an instructor for Go Ape, I am really really frightened of heights. As an adolescent I would cower in fear every time somebody suggested anything to do with climbing. These days a small set of wobbly step ladders can send me running home to my mother!

A few years ago I met a girl who I thought was the best thing since sliced bread. She had it all, sporty, funny and intelligent. Her only flaw was that she was a climber. We got to know each other and it wasn’t long until I plucked up the courage to ask her out on a date. When she suggested we go climbing on our date I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I admit my fear of heights to this girl? Or do I not say anything and continue to try to do anything in the world to impress her? Naturally the hopeless romantic in me decided to keep trying to impress her. So I smiled and said what a lovely idea.

I ran home and started to rummage through my dad’s old climbing stuff. When my dad returned from work I asked if I could borrow a pair of climbing shoes. This brought a tear to his eye. His son, after all these year finally interested in climbing. I could see he was getting excited about the prospect of his son becoming a climber. Instead of getting his hopes up I bluntly told him that it was only to impress a girl. “Fair enough” he sighed and handed me a pair of Merrell Flashdance rock shoes that were almost twice my age! I turned up to the date a sweaty bag of nerves and used a whole bag of chalk to give my sweaty hands a remote chance of gripping something. After spending a few hours (on the same route!) and once I had stopped crying, I owned up to being scared of heights. She laughed and informed me that she had noticed that I was a little scared of the bouldering wall. How embarrassing!

A few months ago we had the chance to sign up for a day in the fells with Arc’teryx to celebrate the launch of the Arc’teryx Lakeland Revival. I signed up for it totally unaware that this was all about climbing. My name was drawn out of the hat and I was ‘lucky’ enough to attend. Nobody in the shop was aware of my crippling fear of heights. “A fell runner who is scared of heights” a few people said to me. I had to apologise several times for not actually being a real life action man.

On Tuesday 25th April 2017 we met the people from Arc’teryx and professional climber Katy Whittaker. We had a brief discussion and were told that we would be going up to Shepherd’s Crag in Borrowdale. I started to sweat and began to walk to the door so I could run away, but the offer of free food was too great an opportunity to miss out on. However, I wasn’t alone in feeling nervous. As a few of the others hadn’t done much climbing either. I again made it clear that I am not a confident climber and would rather we went for a 30 mile fell run instead.

We drove up and parked at Martin’s Café. We were each given some kit to test for the day, an Arc’teryx FL-365 harness and an Arc’teryx Beta LT jacket. But more importantly we were given a good sized packed lunch each!

We walked up to our first pitch, Brown Slabs. Set up and after some convincing started to climb up. No I must admit I know no technical jargon about climbing. I do not really understand the grading system. So please forgive me when I openly miss out all the details about the actual climbing part of the day. I can tell you that wind and frequent hail stone showers made the rock very cold. Great news for a sufferer of Reynard’s! Nevertheless, I did it. I even abseiled down from the top.

Had I not have had the expert guidance of Katy and Ade that day I wouldn’t have been able to get up my first every outdoor V.Dif 3* climb (Little Chamonix).
After the adrenaline had worn off we went to Martin’s Café for tea and a huge slice of coffee and walnut cake. It tasted even better after a day of putting my life on the line.
It was a great day out and I am I glad that I managed to muster the courage to do some real outdoor climbing.

When I returned home that night with cold and sore hands, I proudly told me dad that I conquered Little Chamonix. I then picked up the phone and dialed a number. The person who answered was gob smacked to hear that I had been climbing outdoors. Who is this person? The girl from my climbing date, who is now my girlfriend. My dad’s old climbing shoes did the trick!

Photo by Adrian Nelhams.

30 May 2017 by Jacob Tonkin

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