This post is a little late – my trip to Portland was over the first bank holiday in May, but better late than never!
Both my knees are bruised and scratched, my hands look like I’ve had a fight with a tiger, and it really hurts to walk…a sign of a good outdoor climbing trip! Or rather, a sign that I have experienced a number of moments of desperation, and fell quite a few metres to smash my body into some rock.
The first days of May mean only one thing to a climber – the start of the outdoor season. So we forget indoor gyms, where we climb on colour-coded plastic in the winter, and migrate to real rock.
On the first bank holiday in May I went to Portland for some sport climbing – a rare luxury in England, where most climbing is trad. Despite a shoddy weather forecast for the bank holiday weekend, we managed to get in two days of good climbing in the (occasional) sunshine. Well, mostly in the sunshine, actually!
I have to admit, I am a little bit in love with the limestone cliffs on the shores of Portland. I’ve only ever climbed in Swanage before – actually that was my first proper outdoor climbing trip in England – but that was before I started leading, so I was just top roping everything back then.
The climbs in Portland are pretty technical, so right up my street, but once again I was reminded of how much harder outdoor climbing is compared to indoors, and how much further the bolts are from each other. That realisation came to me as I was hurtling through the air, having fallen off just before clipping the penultimate clip on a 6b route in the Battleship Back Cliff crag on the second day of our trip.
I had been eyeing up that route for a while. It was called A Searing Tunnel of Re-injury. What a name! The description in the guidebook told me I would have to climb on some “bad quality rock to a rotting lower off”, but it looked like this had since been replaced with some new metal anchor points.
I was umming and arring about it while one of our friends was warming up on a 7a+ (that is a different story!), but my mind was made up for me when an experienced-looking climber at the crag told me it was a nice route. Or rather, his words were: “That’s a beautiful route, pretty strong at times”. “well, I’m strong…” I thought, even though I have to admit my knees were shaking a little.
The first five bolts of the route are technical, but not in any way beyond my ability. Then comes the crux…it’s a little overhanging (overhanging enough for me, anyway!), slopery and quite sandy, and you have to climb quite high in order to clip the next bolt. I ended up grabbing onto the sloping rock above the bolt and positioning myself to clip from there, but at the last moment the hand I was hanging on slipped off, and I hurtled down, quickdraw still in hand.
I was a little unprepared for the fall (OK, a lot unprepared!), so my body spun around and crashed into the rock sideways, instead of face on, where I would have been able to use my feet to soften the impact. The result – a bruised knee, a pulled muscle in my left leg and a slightly mashed up finger. And a little bit of psychological damage. Certainly could have been worse, but it shook me a little for the rest of the day, and beyond. It’s a constant mental battle, this sport!
Apart from that little mishap though, my second outdoor weekend in the UK this year was pretty damn awesome.
I cheekily top-roped a few routes that were a little beyond my abilities (a 7a and two 6c+’s in Blacknor North and Battleship Back Cliff), but hopefully not for long! I don’t like top-roping in the gym, but outdoors I feel everything is a learning experience. It’s only something I can do with stronger climbers on a trip, so I justified my lack of leading by saying I was taking the rare opportunity…
I will definitely want to come back to Portland this year, but if I’m honest I can’t wait to go back to sport climb in Europe, where routes an acceptable number of bolts on them. I’m not bold enough for the UK. Yet…