“The next time someone says to me ‘oh, it’s not hard, it’s just sustained’, I think I’m going to punch them in the teeth” – Steve, 3rd belay point.
Well, we did it! It took longer than we were expecting, and it wasn’t pretty. There were a few belay change overs that… let’s just say, nobody should ever see that footage.
Although we were careful to make sure everything was safe, and backed up – it certainly got messy in places.
“Hang on, you need to be round this side of me before you can start climbing…”
“Can I come round behind you?”
“Er, no, that sling isn’t long enough”
“What about if I go under the rope”
“Hold on… the rope’s twisted round your sling there and my up rope is on the wrong side of my anchor…”
“Aargh, my feet are slipping; I wish there was a bit more space here…”
I took a bit of a fall on the third pitch – I fumbled a foot switch, and my foot slipped off the hold. I tried to readjust, but a second later lost my grip on the handhold. The clip was a few metres below me, so I probably only fell about 6 metres before the rope caught me – but it felt further. I had to take a couple of minutes for my legs to stop shaking after that, but in fact it was probably a good thing that it happened.
With this kind of climbing, falling off isn’t the biggest problem – it’s the fear of falling that messes you up. Being afraid to go for the next move because you might fall off if you don’t stick it is paralysing. If you hesitate too long, you wear yourself out just holding on. The crucial thing is knowing that it’s ok to fall off, to make mistakes – knowing that you can trust your partner, and the equipment, and your set up. A fall onto the rope gives you confidence that when you do make a mistake, you won’t die. And getting to the top without dying was the object of the exercise here.
We took a few videos while we were up there – this one is from close to the top. (There’s a few more on my Facebook page, and there may be some action shots from our GoPro cameras as well once we go through it all.)
We had a few anxious moments around that point. By the time we got here, we’d been on the wall for over four hours. Only some of that was the actual climbing; much of it was sorting out the gear, and making sure we had everything in the right place, but the stress is cumulative. We’d become tense and irritable and paranoid about dropping things; shoes especially. Climbing shoes are really tight (by design), and become painful if you keep them on for too long. It made sense to take them off while we weren’t climbing to give our feet a rest – but if we dropped them we’d be up…. well, a bloody big wall without a climbing shoe.
The top of third pitch is the point of no return; past that point, you can’t abseil down safely (at least, not without a longer rope, which we didn’t have). That means the only way off the wall is to climb it. Which we eventually did…
Hopping over the railing at the top, and being greeted casually in German by an elderly Swiss couple taking a stroll was a slightly surreal moment! We stopped for a coffee in the restaurant at the top, and then took our time wandering back down the valley to the car.
Back at the bottom of the dam, we lay in the grass in the sunshine, looked up at it and promised ourselves “never again”. (Less than a week later, we’re already talking about the next trip…).
And then, for the perfect, unexpected, finish to a memorable day… Steve asked me if I’d marry him. Perhaps it was all the adrenaline, or maybe I’d got some chalk in my eyes, but I might have got just a teeny bit weepy.
I think we make a good team – and I’m looking forward to a lifetime of adventures together.
(For those who have asked – yes, there’s still time to sponsor us in aid of the mental health charity Mind. In my last blog post, I wrote about why this something that’s important to me – any contributions to our Just Giving page are very much appreciated.)