13 years later and I’ve followed a similar inspiration to climb scary bits of rock that are close to my limits. But the reality of actually doing it was nothing like imagined when I started out. It just shows you how hard it is to put yourself in other people’s shoes and imagine their motivations or perspectives without the benefit of their experience.
For instance, in those interviews in Set in Stone Stephen Reid commented that he wondered why I came to the Lakes for the first time to repeat Breathless (a John Dunne route) and not one of Dave Birkett’s routes. He assumed it was purely because Dunne’s route was higher profile and got more publicity. Actually I was just totally inspired by a photo of Dave Simmonite’s of Dunne on the route with a beautiful line of chalk dabbed edges running up the wall above him, and vowed it would be my first route in the Lake District. Assuming you’ve got people all sussed out is rarely a good idea.
The reality of climbing at my own limits was much more palatable (than I imagined when I first read about Dave Birkett’s experiences as a 16 year old) – unbelievably rewarding, addictive and… well… I was going to say comfortable.
Let me think about that for a second. When I say comfortable, I mean I feel happy taking risks. That doesn’t mean the risks are tiny or not important, because sometimes they are. I think it’s just that my definition of comfortable is different to what it was before or from other peoples might be. I used to imagine feeling ‘comfortable’ would mean secure and relaxed with little to worry about. I thought it would mean feeling more ‘comfortable’ with a scary lead out of the way, rather than impending.
But when I actually tried hard climbing I found I felt least comfortable in myself just after completing a hard route and most comfortable in the early stages of trying one. Why? Because to me (these days anyway), I feel bored and empty in my climbing when I have nothing there to challenge me – simple as that. When I try a really hard route, there are lots of questions, lot of unknowns and lots of hurdles I don’t know if I can get over. That’s exciting and I feel happiest then.
The thought of having no more scary leads ahead of me because I’ve become lost my inspiration to try hard is the scariest thing I can imagine.