So, yesterday I decked. And it sucked.
I was lucky, I was only at about 3 metres and my head missed all the rocks on the floor. Granted, I was quite unlucky when I ran out of good holds, got pumped, fell, ripped my gear and landed on my back, but you have to look for the positives.
It was my own fault really. I was exploring a new route on a new crag, and ran out of positive holds within a couple of moves, but I carried on regardless, hoping to reach easier ground. When that didn’t happen, I made some sketchy moves to my left, to try and reach a ledge at the side of the face and make my way down.
Obviously, my plan didn’t work. When I fell, the cam at my waist height failed, and I was too far to the left of my previous gear for it to have any effect.
What happened next was a loud thud, lot of wheezing, a lot of lying on the floor, and a lot of “It’s wheeeeeeze fine, I’m wheeeeeeeeze just wheeeeeeeze winded.”
I wasn’t just winded, but a few days of Co-Codamol, and liberal doses of lying on the sofa, I’ll be fine.
The experience taught me a couple of things, which, as everyone I’ve seen so far has told me, is the upside of being in intense pain.
The first, and possibly most obvious, is that when onsighting at a new crag, a helmet is probably wise. Like I said, my head escaped unscathed, but it took a while for the colour to return to me shaken belayers face. Apparently I was only a couple of inches away from a cracked cranium.
The second is that if you own a shiny new bouldering mat, and you’re going to explore a new trad crag, you may as well put it in the car. It’s a great excuse to get it dirty. And since you’ve put it in the car, you may as well take it up to the crag. And it would seem silly to bring it that far and not put it at the bottom of the route.
There always will be debate about the ethics of bouldering mats and trad climbing, but I’m sold on the idea. Helmets, too, will be the subject of disagreement for as long as they exist. As a mountain biker and cycle-commuter in the city before I started climbing, I would never have dreamed of heading out on the road or trail without a lid. So why, then, was I happy to head into the vertical unknown, not knowing how loose the rock was, how easy the moves or how plentiful the gear placements? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m unlikely to be making the same mistake again.
Not for a while anyway.