Facing my fears

I have a deep-seated fear of sea cliffs. This isn’t something new, but something I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. My fear isn’t one of the cliffs themselves, rather a fear of myself, and my ability to resist temptation. You see, what really scares me is that I have an overwhelming desire to jump from the top of one. To hang there, for one brittle yet fleeting moment of complete serenity, before my fall to eternity. I have no idea where this comes from – I’m not a suicidal person by any stretch of the imagination – but still, it’s there, and it’s something I have to deal with every time I’m on top of a cliff. As such, these are places in which I do not dither. If I have to walk near the edge of a cliff, I quite often find myself physically running away or throwing myself on the ground in an attempt to remove this temptation.

I mused on this as I stood on top of the promontory at Baggy Point, setting up a static rope for Sol and I to ab down to the bottom for a couple of climbs. We had planned to have a crack at Lost Horizons on the Long Rock, but the weather meant that the descent to the ridge was dangerously slippy, and we only had one static rope that would be needed for abbing in to the foot of the slab so we couldn’t protect the scramble down. We also tried to get around from Slab Cove, but that nearly ended in disaster on the way out when Sol slipped on the steep path down from the Promontory, and only survived by grabbing a couple of handfuls of grass to slow his slide. To be fair, we very nearly didn’t get that far after I had a raving attack of the willies on the way into Slab Cove at exactly the same point, and sat there in a quivering blue funk for 10 minutes deciding whether to press on or turn back. So by the time we got to even start climbing, it had already been rather an exciting day for us both.

Anyhow. Back to the plot. The plan was to climb ‘Ben’ on top rope, then see what else grabbed our attention. Sol abbed down first, while I teetered on the brink of oblivion at the top of the slab – I had secured myself to the static rope for the belay, but just couldn’t resist leaning out over the edge, to see how it felt. And oddly enough, I didn’t feel the euphoria I was expecting. I just felt a little exposed, and hoped that if the anchors failed, I wouldn’t land on top of my buddy and leave my Goddaughter without a father. Sol then climbed up, got to the top, and proclaimed it a good climb with a tricky move near the top, and good friction. My turn… Abbing down was exhiliarating, despite my normally hating abseiling. And, before I knew it, I was standing on the platform at the bottom, looking up at a perfect slab that just cried out to be climbed. Sol had warned me that it got hot on the slab in the full face of the afternoon sun, so I reached round to get a handful of chalk, and realised I had left my chalk at the top. In the absense of anything better to do, I took my shirt off and tied it to the back of my harness to use as a sweat rag if necessary.

The climb was beautiful – there is no other word for it. A couple of nice powerful moves at the bottom to get the main crack, then follow it diagonally right, all the while with the stunning boulder bridge in view off to my right. The rock was clean, and offered great friction without the abrasiveness of gritstone. And then, at about 30m I’d guess, I hit the crux, which I kind of bodged my way through with a bit of a scrabbly moment from my right foot and a good pull on a small hold. From there, it was plain sailing the rest of the way and I emerged at the top with a big smile on my face, and another little personal victory. For a long time I was completely unsure whether I would ever be able to climb a sea cliff. Something I hadn’t even told Sol during the arrangements for this climb. This was a battle that needed to be won on my own terms, and I had just done so.

We looked at the book, decided that we had actually climed ‘Marion’ instead of ‘Ben’, and Sol promptly abbed back in again to have a crack at something else. Sol was in the mood to lead something, but we decided that as the tide was coming in, we’d leave the static line in place and keep toproping just for safety. I was happy with this arrangement, as I’m more interested in the rock than the style of the climb, but I could tell that Sol was rather disappointed. Next time mate. One thing that we hadn’t bargained for though was the amount of crap that gets knocked down from the top of a cliff when it’s being top roped. I took a couple of hits on the soulders from small pebbles, and Sol had to duck out of the way a couple of times. Still, no damage was done, apart from the sunburn from climbing topless all afternoon.

Will I do another sea cliff? Yes, I think so. I had real problems sleeping the night after the climb, as I just kept visualising myself releasing my belay device while leaning back at the top of the abseil. But I’ve proven to myself that I can put myself right in the middle of one of my greatest, and certainly most destructive fantasy, and not give way to temptation.

Last climb of the day - Marion or Ben on Baggy Point