And… down to earth again.
This weekend past, I went on a lead climbing course. Indoor rock climbing is usually what is called top rope climbing. When top roping, the rope goes up from the climbers harness to a pulley at the top of the face, then down again to the belayer, who will pull it through a belay device that generates friction. If your belayer is doing their job properly, when the climber comes off the wall, they will fall at worst, up to a meter, depending on rope stretch.
Lead climbing does away with the pulley. In this system the rope goes straight from the climber to the belayer, and the climber clips the rope into a series of carabiners called quickdraws anchored to the wall as they ascend. This means that if the quickdraws are two meters apart, and the climber falls just as they are trying to clip in the rope, they will fall at least four meters, plus whatever slack they had, plus rope stretch. Five or six meters is not uncommon.
This is of course, far more dangerous than top roping. For this reason, climbing gyms often require far more stringent tests before they allow you to lead climbing – hence the course.
Which I failed.
The given cause was that my rope handling was not up to par when ascending. The real reason was that I freaked out. Again. And this time I couldn’t blame the promethazine. I was fine until I hit the overhang, where upon my mammalian hind brain noticed the signals coming in from my inner ear that indicated I was nearly upside down with nothing below me and told my forebrain driven consciousness to go to the back of the line and started dumping adrenalin in my blood stream like a drug smuggler being pursued by the coast guard.
This is not the correct response to hanging on to precarious holds with one hand and trying to clip a rope into carabiner hanging on another rope with the other. In fact, it’s pretty much the worst thing possible. My hands shook so much that I was unable to clip the rope into the carabiner. After the fourth or fifth attempt, with legs cramping, my forearms full of lactic acid, and my hands shaking and sweating so much that I couldn’t even get the rope to touch, let alone clip into the carabiner, I was forced to announce that I was falling – and let go…