A fall can be nothing and everything depending on the outcome. Not many people enjoy falling and the aim of climbing is too often to complete your bucket list of routes, without taking a fall. Sometimes however, the artist makes a mistake – hopefully they get straight back on the rock to perfect the move, but other times they can’t walk away from the fall and it is a long wait before the next attempt at any route outdoors.
For a long time I was a budding climbing instructor – keen to become a leader through the SPA qualification route. I’d climbed outdoors building up my trad skills and this day saw me take my first ever trad fall. I knew instantaneously that I’d done some thing bad to my ankle. I couldn’t see it but I knew.
A helicopter ride, 8 days in hospital, 2 operations and a meccano set in my ankle later, I lay in bed waiting to be allowed home. In hospital each day brought bad news about my smashed up ankle and at the age of only 19, with everyone else on the ward about 80, it was hard to see others suffering in pain at the same time as managing my own pain and emotions. Finally, I was allowed to leave the hospital.
At least it was not worse I kept saying to myself.
What it’s like breaking a bone if you’re a climber
Breaking something causes time out, pain and long term physical problems. After 6 months of my break I was able to hop up the climbing wall, but the most challenging thing to overcome was the mental disability. Even my first route on second outside was terrifying; I knew I had to push through this – I love the outdoors after all. Not only that, but I had dreams of becoming a climbing instructor, because I loved climbing so much. I had to do this
Adventures on Crutches
It’s amazing how you adapt when you need to. At university I become good at climbing while balancing on one foot and one knee. Surprisingly, places that seemed out of reach, like the Upper Tier at Tremadog and Golden Tower E2, Anglezark, became accessible on my crutches through my sheer determination not to let this stop me. Soon it became important for me to also get back to the Mountains. Winter offered me my favourite variety of climbing and mountaineering.
It was almost a whole year on from getting airlifted, and due to the amount of damage I’d inflicted on my limb I still didn’t have enough flexibility, strength or pain free movement to go without my crutches. At the same time I had the stamina, desire, motivation and support network, so it all eventually became possible with the help of the crutches and my network. I did get the odd looks of ‘you don’t belong here’ and ‘do you think it’s appropriate to go up there with those’. No-one ever asked the question of why I was doing it, though.
Getting back to Lead Climbing
My first lead climb after the fall was a Diff at Wilton. The 2 years following that I had a love hate relationship with the rock. There were times I felt amazing and times that I would disappoint myself – losing my head game at what others would seem a strange place to be scared. I did manage to get my SPA training in, with my crutches, which other say is a real achievement after such a serious injury.
Knowing who to climb with
During this time I occasionally got pushed too hard by others – I let them do it. Other times, without realising, I would go to a crag with someone and end up being a belay buddy, because i hadn’t asked to go somewhere that I could comfortably lead outs. At some point, I finally realised that I needed to step up, it had to be about me aspiring to my SPA Assessment.
Regaining the passion
Over the last year I have regained my love for lead climbing. There are still days when I don’t go to lead, but I haven’t got the same level of fear I used to. Of course, I still have the wobbly days on the sharp end, but learning who to climb with really helps. Recently I seconded some very talented people up a hard route. I compared my climbing to theirs (mine felt shocking), yet they made me feel every bit as proud as they felt completing that lead! That’s what climbing should be about!
Did I get the SPA…?
Eventually I worked myself up to doing the SPA assessment and was so pleased to pass, but what’s really most important is that my love of climbing has come back, summer or winter!
Thanks to Hannah Smith for this article