The pain felt familiar to when I broke my collar bone last September. The cold must’ve numbed everything because it didn’t feel that bad.
“Nah mate, I’ve fucked up. Something doesn’t feel right.”
I had spent all summer working up the courage to try and onsight this route, and all of a sudden I was worried that I might be off climbing for some time…
Growing up in Norfolk, the idea of rock climbing blew my mind. Seeing videos of climbers like Leo Holding or Hazel Findley scaling massive routes was captivating to me. I was lucky enough that my Dad knew some climbers through his Duke of Edinburgh instructing and they gave me the basics that started me on my climbing career.
I was always a strong sport climber but something about trad captivated me and I decided to make it my focus. After deciding to leave academia and focus on teaching I moved to Yorkshire to teach science and, more importantly, to climb grit and get bold and strong.
At first it was weird, having to lower my grade a bit to get used to climbing on grit. After starting on welsh mountain crags and southern granite I had the classic disdain to grit. “where are the holds?” “fuck I hate slopers” “the routes are so short!!”, all the classics came out. But I warmed to it; I started to enjoy it.
My first grit season came around and I was buzzing, excited to get out and try hard routes with lots of friction.
I’d been eyeing up ‘Black Wall Eliminate’ for some time. It didn’t seem like the usual grit route: nice side pulls, bomber crimps, solid moves – everything I like in a route. I got psyched, warmed up, and then I tied in.
I pulled on and I felt good, I felt strong and ready for this infamous route. I reached the crux and tried the move. I didn’t feel right so I backed off and shook out, hanging off a flake, I talked myself up and went for it. Stuck the side pull. Hung off my right hand. High right foot. Left hand off. Moving gently, stretching over my body to the right. Finger tips brushing the next hold. Left hand off. Barn door.
“Fuck, I’m off!”
As soon as I landed I knew something wasn’t right, the sound my foot made after it fell over 4 meters was weird. The way I landed and fell back meant that I was staring right at where I had fallen off, so for the next 2 and a half hours or so I got the pleasure of staring my new nemesis, memorising everything about the route (including the ‘hidden crimp’ that a climber told me about after he saw me move past it and fall off…). The pain felt familiar to when I broke my collar bone last September. The cold must’ve numbed everything because it didn’t feel that bad.
After the paramedics and mountain rescue had done their thing I was at the mercy of the staff at Harrogate hospital. Hearing various outcomes and prognoses was frustrating. I heard a variety of things from I’d be back at school tomorrow on crutches, too I’ll be out of work for 3 months. I’m a pretty resilient person by nature, I’m good a making do and knuckling under but there is something very disheartening about being told that I may not be able to run again. I don’t particularly like running but I definitely want to have the option!
I’ve had injuries before, some of them serious and some just from general stupidity, but this was the first where I genuinely thought it will have an impact on my life.
Broken collar bones or concussions are common, give it a bit and you’ll be back to normal but something about my ankle is worrying me. I don’t like being serious, let alone being serious about my future. I actively avoid it.
Being a Secondary School Science teacher means that for most of my day I have to be the grown up, and I have to sensible when is very much against my nature. Now I’m having to face this injury as a grown up, being told to decide if I want surgery or not with comparable outcomes in the short term and theoretical in the longterm is very difficult for me.
One of the reasons I climb is usually to escape modern day issues and to clear my mind.
I am not that interested in technology or new shiny toys, growing up around a lot of football fans or gamers I felt like I didn’t have my outlet until I came across climbing. I love the adventure and the sense of accomplishment when you climb a mountain route or climb a new grade. It’s difficult to describe to non-climbers but that’s half the fun. The semi-meditative nature of climbing is one of the strongest appeals to me. Weather it’s a bold mountain lead or a play at a bouldering wall, when you’re climbing that’s all you’re doing.
And now it’s looking like I’m going to have to go a long time without climbing.
This has happened before, and my Dad said I was worse than when my mum quit smoking. Climbing is essentially my one hobby and a huge part of who I am and I’m dreading the thought of going 3 months without putting on a harness.
I will climb again, I know this.
This isn’t a ‘Doctor told me I won’t so I will’, but climbing is pretty much all I’m about. Stories from famous accidents and friends and acquaintances give me hope not only that I will climb again, but I will climb hard again. I may not reach my 2018 goal of a grit E3 onsight but I will battle the demons that will appear in the next 3 months or so and I will get back to sending and pushing my grade again.