I’ve been reading over on the forums at ukclimbing.com a lot of posts recently about people’s first outdoor lead climbs. A first lead climb outdoors seems to be a pivotal moment to a lot of climbers, and it brings out a lot of emotion, to the point where people want to document the moment. Also the fact that a £500 prize was up for grabs for the best essay seemed to encourage the written output.
My first outdoor lead was (unusually for me) pretty well planned. The date was to be Sunday, 3rd February. The place was to be Birchen Edge. I also found a set of suitably low grade routes on a particular buttress that seemed to fit the bill for a first go. Everything looked good, right up until the last moment. At which point we had the first snow of the year, 70mph winds, and possible flooding. Still, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that put me off. I just packed an extra wooly vest in with my climbing kit, and headed off to the crag. Once there, the first thing I noticed was that despite the dire warnings from the met office, there was no actual snow laying on the ground. OK, so there was still a biting cold wind, but the crag was dry, and once we’d found a little cave to set up the camping stove in for tea, it was actually pretty cosy. After a cuppa we decided to look for a suitable first route, and found a candidate in Nautical Crack, listed as Vdiff, and with easily spotted points for protection. In fact, there was only really one placement needed, and it was easy enough to scamper up the bottom half of the climb unprotected to reach it after the lead, as we were later to find out. We tossed a coin, and Sol won, so tied in while I clipped my belay plate on. The climb was uneventful, apart from a bit of a squirm to get out of the V shaped crack. About a minute later a shout of “safe” from the top of the crag (nearly lost in the 60mph gusts of icy wind) indicated that Sol had completed his first lead, and the smile on his face a few seconds later as he reappeared around the side of the buttress confirmed that he was happy with it.
And so it was my turn. My first outdoor lead. Was I nervous? Um, not really. I had been, up until the point I tied in. At which point the nerves vanished, and I got on with the job at hand. And to be honest, other than finding the same squirmy exit from the crack a bit awkward, it was all pretty straightforward. One thing that did surprise me though – the amount of friction available from gritstone for my feet. Anyhow, I scampered up the slab above the crack, shouted “safe” down to Sol, and had a little self congratulatory moment, standing there looking out over the peak district shivering my nadgers off.
That completed, we had a celebratory cuppa, and looked for another route to have a crack at. In the end we couldn’t be bothered to look too hard, as it was so perishing cold, so we just decided to do the next route on the buttress, Heave Ho. I wasn’t holding out too much hope of completing this one to be honest, as it weighed in at a grade of S 4a which I was kind of planning to complete by the end of the year. In the end though, it turned out to be easier to complete than the previous climb, despite me taking the wrong sized nuts up there and having to fiddle around for what seemed like 45 minutes trying to get some protection in place.
So, two leads by lunchtime, a VDiff and a S 4a which I was more than happy about. We stopped for lunch as by now, we were both shivering with the cold, and needed to get some hot food and tea inside us to try and delay the onset of hypothermia. While munching away on pot noodles we looked up the wall above our little encampment. It looked eminently climbable, and the guide listed it as Ta Very Much, an HS 4c. This was well above what I’d planned on climbing this year, let alone this visit to the crag, but my confidence was on a high, so I decided to give it a go. Until, that is, I took off my gloves and found that I couldn’t actually feel my fingers any more. Discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to pack up, and save it for the next visit to the crag when it may not be so damn cold.
So, we packed up, and headed off to The Foundry in Sheffield to spend a couple of hours in the warm. Nothing remarkable to report really – a few good climbs and some very welcome hot sweet tea.
And that’s that really. My first outdoor lead, and an ambition realised. The problem is, I want to do a lot more of it, and soon. So I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time travelling up and down the M1 from now on.
Happy? Yup. Proud? Very.