When I started blogging I used to share a lot of my personal adventures, but since my business has grown, I’ve been doing it less. I’m still going on adventures and loving life as an immigrant in Austria, but the business of running a business can sometimes take over my life. Last year I wrote an article on We Are The Wanderers, An Introduction to Climbing. At the time I was only a via ferrata climber and wasn’t too interested in any other forms of climbing. But somewhere at the end of 2018 I suddenly had the urge to try something new. So for Christmas 2018 I asked Santa (aka my husband) to come on a beginner climbing course at our local climbing wall, Kletterzentrum Innsbruck. Well in February we went for our first session, and from that moment, I was addicted! I thought I’d share a bit of my journey as a complete beginner climber because so far it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve only got a few phone photos of these adventures, so please don’t be offended by the poor quality pictures.
Diaries of A Newbie Climber
Our climbing course was split in to 3 sessions. In week 1 we tried bouldering. While I struggled with nerves, being conscious that if anyone would fall off the wall and smack their face on it, it would be me, Menno took to it like some kind of spider monkey. It was a lot of fun, but the next morning I woke up and found that everything I tried to grip caused my arms to cramp up. It was hilarious and so painful at the same time. But despite the pain, I was so excited about our next lesson.
Our second and third weeks were all about learning to climb on a rope. As complete beginners, we spent our time in the beginner area, learning first to climb on the auto-belay systems and also taking it in turns to be belayed by our lovely instructor. But before we knew it, our course had ended and I was really sad. I loved every moment of what we’d learned so far, and I wasn’t ready for it to end. So I chatted with our wonderful instructor Franzi about giving Menno and I some private coaching to bring us to a level where we could climb independently.
In our first sessions alone with Franzi, we learned to belay each other on the top rope. And now that we were really climbing, and belaying each other, we had to learn to do something else super important. We needed to learn how to fall, and as a belayer, how to catch a fall. Doing this exercise was quite possibly one of the most terrifying things I’ve done. We would take in turns to climb up, and just after an overhanging section, we’d led go and let ourselves fall. Having learned all I know about climbing until know from via ferrata, the last thing you ever want to do is fall. In via ferrata you have safety equipement to minimise injury if you fall, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you are testing it out. In 2017 I did have a fall on a via ferrata, so getting over the notion that in the climbing hall it’s safe to fall was a huge challenge for me. But with no choice but to trust my harness, the rope and my belayer (and with lots of talking myself up to it whilst hanging on to the holds), I let go and let myself fall. And since I’m writing this today, I can confirm that I survived. Learning to fall on the top rope was terrifying, and whilst each time we trained it did get slightly less scary, it was still pretty darn scary.
Since our first ever trip to the climbing hall in February, our goal was to be able to climb independently, and to be able to belay each other safely on different routes. With top rope climbing not being common in most climbing gyms in our area, we set our sights on learning to lead climb.
Trying Lead Climbing For The First Time
With this goal in mind, for Menno’s birthday I got him a climbing rope. With our new rope in hand, we were ready for this new challenge. We tried once with a friend who belayed us as we lead climbed a route, but we were both nervous to start belaying each other, as the consequences of getting it wrong suddenly seemed much more serious.
We arrived for our first real lesson in lead climbing feeling excited, but I was also feeling very anxious. I’d come to terms with falling on the top rope, and it didn’t scare me like it used to. But the idea of falling during lead climbing quite honestly made me feel sick and anxious. We started off our session leading a super easy 4a route and everything went pretty smoothly. Then came the dreaded question that I was hoping wouldn’t be asked yet. Would we like to try some fall training this week already? My instant reaction was NO. I tried to convince myself it’s because I wanted to get more comfortable with the feeling on leading rather than top roping, but I knew that we’d need to do it at some point soon. So I said we could start learning about it, and I’d see how it was going.
We started with some exercises on the ground, and then it was time to climb up and to take a fall. Like the kind husband he is, Menno offered (was persuaded) to go first. We agreed that Franzi would belay him for the first few tries, and then I’d take over. He climbed up to just above the overhang, and it was time. He had to let go. And without too much hesitation, he did. Go Menno! And then he climbed back up and jumped again, and again, and again. Now it was my turn to belay him, and catch his fall. So I took over the belay, he climbed up, and at the overhang, he let go. And I caught him. We tried it a few more times, until we both felt confident that we knew what we were doing.
Now was the moment I was dreading. It was my turn. Franzi was so patient and gave me the option to wait until next week, but I knew that a week thinking about it would be so much worse than just getting up there and doing it right there and then. So that’s what I did. For the first time, she belayed me. I was worried about the fact that I probably weigh double her bodyweight, but she wasn’t concerned. I climbed up to the agreed point, and now it was my turn. All I needed to do was let go. Except, when you are meters off the ground, only secured by a single rope, it’s not something your mind is going to let you do without some hesitation (at least not the first time). I down-climbed a little to reduce the slack, but there was nothing else to do now but let go. After shouting down 2 o3 3 times to ask if she was ready, I counted to 3 and let go. I fell for a second then I stopped softly. After all this build up, it was actually the biggest anti-climax ever! The falling feeling that I had been so scared off was absolutely fine. There was no hard stop. No unpleasant feeling of my stomach in my throat. The worst bit really was letting go, and as soon as you did, it was really ok. So I climbed up a couple more times and had more tries. Then Menno took over belaying me and we did the same again.
We ended that session on a huge high. Not only had we succeed in not killing each other when falling during lead climbing, but we’d both given ourselves the confidence to know that we can do this! We are so ready for this next step of our climbing adventure. We’ll still be hanging out in the beginners area for a bit, getting up our confidence belaying and leading, but we’re so excited to start moving on to bigger walls and new challenges.
BRING IT ON!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit about this personal adventure of mine. If you’d like to get to know me better, or read some other personal posts about what I get up to behind the scenes when I’m not being an elopement photographer, you might enjoy these posts too: