Are all climbers adrenaline junkies?

Talk to your average climber, and you’ll quickly discover the majority have either sky dived, bungee jumped, base jumped or at least taken a few risks at the top of climbs and generally broken a few bones along the way.

Climbing is by definition an adrenaline fuelled sport – especially the extreme end, free soloing. To climb a rock face with no ropes, no safety and nothing to rely on but yourself, with the risk of death a very real prospect takes a serious amount of talent, guts and self-belief. And needless to say, adrenaline plays a factor.

Even at the more mundane end, most casual climbers would class themselves as risk takers – you couldn’t go for a 50-50 hold if you weren’t willing to judge, assess, weigh up… and take the risk anyway. Which is where the other activities come in.

How better to get a big shot of adrenaline than throwing yourself out of a plane at 13,000 feet and free falling at 130 mph? So thought a group of climbers, who set off for Beccles in Suffolk at a silly hour in the dawn rising of January 1st 2018. Miraculously no one was hungover – more interestingly, only one person was nervous.

Yep, me. Sky diving is the one thing I said I would never ever do. It’s not fear of dying. Doesn’t bother me one bit, if it’s my time, it’s my time. No fear of something going wrong – why worry about what you cannot predict. Limited self-preservation instinct. Nope, my issue is… I hate the sensation of free falling. Which unfortunately, is quite a large part of sky diving.

All kitted out, up we went in a rickety small plane, stuffed in like sardines, everyone sandwiched between each other’s legs. The chat rapidly became bawdy and increasing lewd, which given the circumstances not to mention the positioning of our tandem partners was probably to be expected. It certainly lightened the atmosphere – for everyone else. I was too busy swearing in my head and wondering if there was any way of getting the hell out of dodge, other than the obvious one I had paid a small fortune to do…

One by one, out flew solo and tandem divers until I was the only one left. Shuffling forward with my eyes firmly shut – survival instinct be damned, there was only one way I was leaving that plane and that was if I could not see how high I was – suddenly the air hits you, and you feel briefly as if you have opened the door of an industrial freezer, with cold wind wrapping itself around your face and enveloping your whole body. The split second of shock is a welcome distraction and an instant later through no decision of your own you are tumbling in the air, head over heels as if you have mistakenly jumped onto the world’s highest roller coaster.

And here comes our old friend adrenaline. It kicks in, giving you an eery sense of calm as you – ok, your instructor – regains control and you start to fall in a more controlled fashion. Heights and falling from them. No biggie for a climber right? Bread and butter.

No. This was an entirely different sensation. To start with, I still have issues falling forwards. Backwards doesn’t worry me, I do it on a weekly basis bouldering and leading. Forwards feels alien, hence why I have to have my eyes shut. Also, climbing, your immediate fear when you realise you are falling is to clear the wall, to not catch a trailing foot on a hold. Or your face for that matter.

Sky diving, there is essentially very little chance of hitting anything. Nothing to fear in that regard. And you are not in control of the decision making – of whether to take that 50-50 risk. You have to throw yourself completely on the mercy of a stranger who you have just met – and yet who you are tied to, sharing blood, sweat, tears and jokes. It is the weirdest, most intimate of first dates, with the added trust element of an old married couple.

Once the chute goes, calmness ensues. Peace and quiet descend as you fly over the countryside, the sun dipping low on the horizon. Or that is how my friends described it – my instructor for reasons best known only to himself decided that despite being last out, we would be first down. Round and round we went to drop quicker on a magic tea cup of a carousel ride, with that stunning horizon starting to look like it had been drawn by a right-handed drunk with their left-hand. As the world churned around me, I swiftly decided that yes, sky diving is epic and awesome and yes I would probably do it again but no, being a climber was absolutely no help whatsoever.

Are all climbers adrenaline junkies? Yes absolutely. But does that mean all climbers will naturally take to any sport that has adrenaline at its core? No. There is a very big difference between flying through the air with a parachute on your back and flying through the air because you have gone for a hold a few metres above your last clip and missed it.

Climbing has its own set of parameters, and each individual faces their own challenges. Adrenaline is part and parcel of any risk taken, but it can be a by-product rather than the desired result. As I learned today, adrenaline fuelled sports can be incredibly exhilarating and rewarding, but each one will challenge you in a different way. But climbing has taught me that my boundaries and abilities are far, far wider than I would have ever thought. And that being scared is no reason not to try.

I threw myself out of a plane at 13,000 feet today. Just because I had to do it with my eyes shut diminishes nothing. And boy am I glad I did it. Without all the things I have achieved through climbing, I would never, ever have had the confidence to even try sky diving. Adrenaline is helpful, but ultimately confidence is far more crucial for extreme sports, extreme adventures and extreme challenges.

Fortunately, as the new year has dawned, I am ready for all three. 2018 started in style, and barring injuries, is going to continue in that vein.

Advertisements Share this:
Like this:Like Loading... Related