‘Come on you can do it,’ a kind lady on the ground yelled up.
A 60 m climbing rope was tied to my harness, which was clipped round my waist. The rope trailed behind me and was attached to my brother who stood firmly on the ground below.
My aim was to climb up the stone wall and clip the rope onto hooks which were bolted in every few meters or so. If I were to lose my balance and fall I would drop to the hook I most recently clipped into.
This type of climbing is called lead climbing. It allows you to climb up great heights without needing to attach your rope to an anchor on the top of the wall. Useful, as we didn’t have access to the top of the wall to tie into the anchor at the start.
Lead climbing is scary as there is no rope ahead of you so if you fall you might drop a little way before the rope catches you on the hook you just clipped into below.
This is perfectly safe. However, it feels terrifying. I didn’t get to the top of my first outdoor lead climb despite being encouraged by strangers. I clipped in a few quickdraws (clipping devises that go from the hook in the wall onto your rope) before being lowered down from about half way up.
This meant that my brother had to go up and retrieve our quickdraws that I left in. The way to do this is to reach the top of the wall where you can securely clip yourself onto an anchor in the wall. Once you are clipped into this anchor you can safely re-tie your rope and thread your rope through two additional anchors.
Once done, you can detach yourself from the first anchor and be lowered safely. On the way down you can remove all quickdrawers while still being held by your climbing buddy below. This is because you have threaded the rope through two secure anchors at the top of the wall (this rope wasn’t anchored in when climbing up, hence the need for all the clips or quickdrawers).
Consequently, the lead climber has now set the way for the second climber who won’t need to clip in every few meters on the way up. Perfect for me as top rope climbing feels much less scary. Clipping in every few meters requires a strong steady hand. You need to grab onto the wall with one hand and use the other hand to carefully clip in.
This said, while top rope climbing is easier, I was still very apprehensive as the wall still felt very high. I knew I had the strength and balance to get up but hanging off a vertical rock face feels very counterintuitive.
My initial aim was to get to half way up to the first ledge. When there my brother managed to persuade me to do the next section and then the next. Eventually, I made it to the top and let out a huge sigh of relief. What an achievement.
I was hanging just below the top of the Jagged limestone cliffs. I somehow found the courage to move my head to the left and look down. The view was spectacular.
Small trees and green shrubs clung onto rock ledges, while beyond trees populated the background.
The landscape had been carved by humans. We were in a disused limestone quarry, nicknamed Horseshoe. Straight lines ran around the edge of the rock cliffs, where machines had cut out chunks of rock to use for houses, roads and other infrastructure.
The quarry stopped operating and was shut down in 1969. 60 years ago the scene would have been very different, with vehicles ferrying rock to and fro. The air would have been misty with toxic dust and workers coughing as they studiously got on with their manual labour.
Today, strenuous work still takes place. However, this is in the form of recreational activities. Horseshoe quarry is used by keen climbers and enthusiastic walkers.
It is a great place to learn to climb as there are easy routes as well as harder ones.
After I was lowered from the top of the rock, I flopped on the floor and lay down, my arms were intensely throbbing. This was our forth day climbing with little recovery time in between. Although ideally we would have had a rest day, in the morning the sun was out and and due to the temperamental weather we couldn’t pass the opportunity to be outside.
Horseshoe quarry is also a great chilling or picnic spot. Take lots of snacks and a good book to relax with after your climb.
Despite the achy arms and fear factor, I would thoroughly recommend outdoor rope climbing. Overcoming these barriers and reaching the top is so rewarding.
Top tip – make sure to practice inside beforehand and go with an experienced climber.