Let me begin with this simple fact: I am scared of heights.
I can be impulsive and overconfident and sometimes people have misinterpreted this as being ‘fearless’. I’m not fearless. I like to think that most of my fears are rational and that I don’t usually let fear get in the way. ‘Fearless’ as a concept makes me think ‘stupid’ because fear is a natural instinct for self preservation. It’s a natural trait.
A few weeks before my fight I had been socialising a lot less. I avoided people because socialising often involves food or drink. The upcoming fight is also a common topic of conversation, you get pretty sick of it. In the few weeks before a fight you just want to crack on with your training, socialise very little and keep your mind peaceful.
I’d been avoiding my friends, to a certain degree, so when Danny (one of my oldest friends) asked me if I wanted to do the Via Ferrata Xtreme I agreed without really looking into it. My understanding was that it was a hike in the lake districts with some climbing. I’ve been climbing with Danny once a week for the past year (minus the time I was in New Zealand). I think it’s a great form of exercise that compliments my other training. We usually do indoor bouldering, it’s a great calisthenic workout that is unparalleled when it comes to improving grip strength and core stability. We’ve been outdoor bouldering together once and we’ve also been outdoor climbing together once. To my understanding bouldering is like climbing but without the safety gear (and not as high).
Once my fight was out of the way I didn’t think about Via Ferrata Xtreme very much. I knew it was booked but I never read up on it and I didn’t even know what day we had it booked for. A couple of days before Danny reminded me. We’d booked the 9am slot which meant we had to set off at around 6am. I was so under prepared that I woke my dad up to borrow some waterproofs, some thermals and some gloves. I set off wearing heavy duty hiking boots, thermal pants, joggers, a thermal top, a walking top, an outdoor jacket and gloves.
Danny drove, our other friend had dropped out due to flu. I remarked that I didn’t know that was an option. The night before all I could think about was making up a decent excuse to avoid going. But it’s an experience, and what’s the point in life if we avoid every opportunity to try something new and a bit scary?
We arrived at Honister Slate mine at around 8:30am. Randomly it was about 1km down the road from where I had been at fight camp a few weeks earlier. There was only a few cars there so I thought the tour might have been pretty small. The sun was also beaming down and I felt a little over dressed.
We signed in and our group started to materialise. When they arrived we went out to an equipment shed where we were given a harness and a helmet. Here was my first embarrassment of the day. The helmets were in two sizes. Grey ones were small and orange ones were regular size. Now, I know I’ve got a small head. But the only people on this tour with the grey helmets were me, a nine or ten year old girl and a small bald man. the other 18 all (apparently) had ‘normal’ sized heads.
We put our kit on and headed out of the shed into a bus. There was a track up to the mine, the bus took us along. At one point it looked like the driver wasn’t paying attention and I saw a few people (including myself) panic as he veered right, off the track. There was another road that we couldn’t see. I thought we were driving off the edge of the cliff. As if I wasn’t nervous enough.
We got out and headed through a mine shaft. Our guide told us to watch our heads as it was low and not very well lit. I kept my head real low. Danny was in front of me and I heard him bash his head pretty hard. Luckily he had his helmet on (but I bet it still hurt).
We congregated at the top of the climb to go through the safety instructions. The instructions were uncomfortable basic. “You have two clips on your harness, attach them to the safety cable. Move them over one at a time, off you go.” They did ask if anyone was scared of heights and I, alone, raised my hand. It made me really question why I was there. He asked who wanted to go first; the little girl, one of my fellow grey helmet wearers, volunteered.
The initial climb was a fairly sturdy looking, wide, steel ladder. But it was a downwards climb and we were already pretty high up. I watched everyone go, they posed for photos with no hands and big smiles. I was really nervous by this point. I set off last, I didn’t dare do a non-handed pose. I attached my clips with shaking hands. I realised my boots weren’t exactly ideal. They were clumsy for this type of climb.
I definitely expected more hiking. The route was pretty much continuous. After the initial ladder, which was shorter than I expected. The route changed into steel ladder rungs attached into the cliff face. They didn’t look sturdy or safe. You had to move the clips over fairly often, I was always very careful with these. I heard Danny say, “oops I was unclipped there” twice! The route went down then accross, the same ladder like rungs attached into the cliff face. I implored myself not to look down. Though everytime we had a bit of the route that felt ‘safe’ I’d take a look. We were very high. It was also a beautiful day. I was dressed for snow and the sun was beaming down.
The route spanned some of the cliff face until we came to the tightrope. Being last, I watched everyone cross this thing, it was really f****** high. They were all laughing and playing around on it. Some of them hung upside down for photos. Me? I shuffled across it. Looking dead ahead. Arms locked into the guide ropes. Controlled breathing. I didn’t look down once. It got really wobbly in the middle and, as Danny was in front of me I asked him if he was shaking it on purpose. He wasn’t. I was so happy to be back on land at the end of it. I just laid there and hugged a rock for a few minutes.
The rest of it was more of the same, it was a long time to be climbing without much rest. The end bit was a rope ladder thing, I felt okay with it until I got to the top and thought it looked a bit frayed.
As I approached the top of the ladder I asked one of the group leaders if we were finished. She said: “yes, just a 10 min walk to the top then we climb back down”. The last bit was a joke. I’d definitely been a source of amusement throughout the climb. We walked to the top and took in some beautiful views. Posed for photos and walked back down.
We got back, they had been taking photos all day and you could buy them on a USB back at the base. I asked how much they were and the guy said “it’s £15, a bargain if you consider how many photos are on there, there’s 140”. Now, me and Danny know how much a USB costs. We also knew that the vast majority of the photos were of complete strangers. But it was a hell of an experience and despite the absolute rip off for the photos we went ahead and bought them.
Did I enjoy it? No. Would I do it again? No. Am I glad I did it? Hell yes.
I’d been having a really rough week and this trip took my mind off everything completely. It got me outdoors, it was a challenge both mentally and physically and it sorted my head out. Don’t get me wrong, if heights didn’t bother me I’d probably do it again. Sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it puts the petty problems in life into perspective and helps you get your head round things. Don’t ignore fear if it’s in the interest of self preservation, but ignore it if it’s irrational. Try new things, meet new people, enjoy yourself.
The website for the climb can be found at: http://www.honister.com/via-ferrata/via-ferrata-xtreme/