My climbing evening was well and truly ruined and I felt like I was back at school being told off by a teacher for wearing the wrong coloured socks. And I was so excited about going back to train at my favourite climbing gym in London, The Reach…
“You can’t do that here, it’s dangerous and sets a bad example to others,” we were told about half an hour into our training session by a member of staff. Clay and I were doing fall practice on one of the easier routes, a core part of our training to build confidence while lead climbing.
Advocated by some of the top climbers in the world, including Dave MacLeod (yes, I know I keep going on about his book), it’s something I have incorporated into every indoor lead climbing session since January and I have written about it, and how much it has helped my confidence, in a previous blog.
Practicing falls has helped me immensely with my fear of leading, even though I still have a long way to go. In his book, 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes, MacLeod advocates hundreds, thousands of practice falls. He reckons fear of falling is the biggest thing holding most climbers back from achieving their potential, and I am in full agreement. I was terrified of falling before I started practicing this religiously, and I already feel so much better just a few months down the line.
So you can imagine how frustrated I was when a member of staff, one I have never seen at The Reach before, told me off, like a school girl, for “doing something bad”. He told us it was an unsafe practice, despite the fact that I had used a belay bag to counter the difference in weight between me and Clay as I was belaying, so I wouldn’t get pulled up in the air too much.
“You can kick the person belaying next to you in the head,” we were told. I asked politely if it would be OK to carry on with our fall practice on a different wall, but was told a flat out “No”.
“Not this time in the evening, it’s busy and it sets a bad example,” he said. He wasn’t interested in compromise. That would have undermined his overinflated sense of smug authority, and that just won’t do, will it?
Now, I have done plenty of fall practice at this climbing gym, and others, over the past few months. No one else has ever complained or told me I was putting the climbers around me in danger, until now.
It is a core part of my training and not something I am willing to give up, nor something I can easily do elsewhere, as the climbing gym is my main place of training during the week. Not to mention, falling outdoors is much scarier and more dangerous, and that is precisely the reason we have been training in the gym, to help us with our fears outdoors.
So I’m sure you can imagine I was fuming. We were both fuming. I don’t remember the last time I was this angry at one person.
The thing is, there are no clearly set out rules stipulating that practicing lead falls is forbidden in climbing gyms. In fact, most climbing gyms include lead fall practice when they teach novices to lead, because, you know, it’s really important to learn to fall well.
Apart from that, what happens if my leader takes an unintended fall on the same climbing wall? He will pull me up for sure, and it will be less controlled because I won’t expect it. What if I’m doing a hard route and I fall off five times? The same five falls Clay did on his lead when this uber-important figure of authority came to tell us off?
Should I give up on the idea of doing anything that’s beyond my grade just in case I take a fall and, god forbid, scare some children, or fall in an unlucky enough way to kick someone??
I should have told all this straight to his face, of course, but it took me some time to gather my thoughts. And I think the disappointment in ‘my’ climbing gym hit me so hard I couldn’t focus.
I know we live in a hysterically overprotective nanny state, where children are barely allowed to play any contact sports for fear they may get one or two scratches, but I thought climbing was exempt from this kind of ridiculous sentiment. Climbing, which stands for freedom, bravery and independent thinking, and a sport I love so passionately and fiercely. Are we really expected to wrap it up in a cotton wool cocoon because something might potentially go a little bit wrong???
The most infuriating thing about all of this is that this man, whose name unfortunately I didn’t get but I’m sure he’ll know who I mean if he reads this (and I hope to God he does!), didn’t even understand what we were so upset about.
Why would you want to achieve your full potential and overcome your fears, right? Buckle up and for God’s sake don’t take any risks. Injury and death is waiting for you around EVERY corner!!
I could go on about this for a while, but it has turned into enough of a rant as it is, so I’ll stop, because I’m struggling to find the words to fully express my frustration and anger. Way to go, Mr Self-Important Climbing Instructor.
I wonder what Dave MacLeod would have to say about this…?