Friday, 14 June 2013

Rocks, ropes & conquering fear with Lakeland Ascents

To say I was out of my comfort zone is putting it mildly. Rock-climbing and abseiling are things that in my mind other people do. However, when the opportunity came to spend the day with Lakeland Ascents I decided to give it a go. They do everything from rock-climbing and abseiling to gorge scrambling and winter and ice climbing. My friend Peter was in the Lakes on holiday and I persuaded him to keep me company on this adventure.

Ready to climb
We met Si from Lakeland Ascents in the Stickle Ghyll car-park in Langdale and headed to Scout Crag a short walk away. Scout Crag is for beginners. It still looked pretty high to me though and impossible to climb! As Si got the ropes ready, I stepped into my harness (really not the most flattering thing I have ever worn but for this occasion I did not care – it felt robust and secure and that was all I was after!) Equipped with hard hats we headed over to the crag to begin rock-climbing.
Scout Crag - my first rock climbing challenge!

The first lesson was in knots (which were all checked by Si) and then we were off. Peter went first and pretty much sprinted up the side of the crag then scaled elegantly down. Well that didn’t look too hard. I took my first tentative step on the crag and then another. I was probably all of six feet off the ground at this point but was starting to feel a real sense of achievement. It is all about keeping the weight on leg muscles rather than on your hands and arms. When I was half way up, I found it much trickier as obvious foot holds were not apparent and I began to put trust in some of the tiniest pieces of rock. But it worked. My adrenaline was pumping and my legs were shaking live Elvis at one point but I made it to the top. Yay!

Me on a rock
Then I had to descend. Technically this is the easy part. I somehow managed to get it wrong though and found myself spinning around and dangling on the rope in mid air! I recovered a little bit of elegance but only a little as I got back down to terra firma. However, I was surprised that at no point as I was hanging in mid air was I afraid. I had complete confidence in the ropes and Si and it was well placed. I was never at risk.

I tried the ascent again and this time I was faster as I had a better technique and more confidence. I also managed to get back down more elegantly. Buoyed up with this success, we tried a higher and more difficult part of the crag. Peter went first again and I was in charge of belaying for him, which is where I was holding the rope and controlling the slack etc. Si had another part of the rope as back-up in case I did something wrong. This was demonstrably a more difficult proposition.

Cathedral Quarry
Peter took two attempts but did get to the top whereas I took about ten minutes to get onto the first grassy ledge about a foot off the ground (much to the amusement of Peter and Si) and it didn’t bode well for the rest of the crag but I started making progress with even fewer footholds than before. I only got two-thirds of the way up as my muscles were starting to feel really tired but I was really pleased with what I achieved. I started my descent and once again got my technique wrong. This time I span about six feet around the crag and dangled again. I was unscathed but I did demonstrate the importance of hard hats!

Next we headed off to Cathedral Quarry near Little Langdale. This is an amazing place that I did not know existed. It is a large cave with extensive mining tunnels around it. It is a real attraction for people abseiling and as we arrived it was already busy. The lower crag was full so we decided to head straight for the high crag that meant an abseil of 160 feet. 

The high abseil descent
Again, Si set up the ropes and I watched person after person descend just further along the crag. No-one seemed to struggle. I was feeling very nervous though.

Peter went first again and hopped over the crag and made his way down. No problems at all. I was clipped on and took my first tentative steps towards the edge. My heart was racing. Si gave me the instructions and I stood with my back to the wide expanse below me. I was standing on the tiniest of ledges with the calming words of Si encouraging me to lean back and take the first steps down. I really wanted to but I was shaking and quite literally terrified. Si was very patient and deserves a medal. 

I tried about four times to descend. Peter came back up to give me encouragement. I had full confidence in the ropes (after all, I had spent a good amount of time dangling from them that morning) and confidence in Si but I just couldn’t do it. Peter even went down the crag again to show me the technique. In the end I admitted defeat. I was so frustrated I could have cried.
Me finally braving abseiling

Si had a solution though. We headed off to the lower crag that was now empty. He set the ropes up again and I was absolutely determined. I got into position, leant back straight away and off I went! Hurrah! I had quite a good technique for much of the descent (unlike this morning) and so was very happy. As I got to the bottom my smile could have rivalled the Cheshire Cat. At last!

To finish the day we headed along the caves and tunnels right through the crag to get back out to the car. The tunnels are pitch black so you need a torch and are low so you need a hard hat ideally. I cannot believe I have never been there before.

So having been out of my comfort zone all day, would I do it again? Actually yes I would. I really enjoyed the rock-climbing and would like to get better at that. Abseiling still holds a lot of fear for me but I think if I did the low crag a few times to get confidence in my technique I would be brave enough to do the large crag. I am certainly going to try it again one day.

Si and Lakeland Ascents were fabulous. I put my confidence and faith in his skills, experience and knowledge and it was well placed. Si was calm and encouraging and I achieved things I never thought I could. 

Now, when I see other people rock-climbing I can look and say “I did that”. Maybe ice climbing next?

With Si before the abseil attempt

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  1. Love it! So pleased to see people having a go at new things. I love rock-climbing but have never tried abseiling. I think I just might though and it sounds like a good recommendation for Lakeland Ascents. Keep climbing!

    1. Thanks Amy :-)
      Yes I would recommend them and I will definitely keep climbing!

  2. AnonymousJune 16, 2013

    I have such an image of you dangling on the rope! I felt like I was there with you :-)

    1. Lol! Not my most elegant moment Janice but it was a lot of fun anyway :-)

  3. Well done Tanya, keep at it and you'll be writing rock-climbing guide books before you know it...

    1. Thanks Freddie. I am definitely rock-climbing again and I really must conquer the 160 foot abseil! :-)