Relying on the belaying of strangers

Back when I wasn’t a dirtbag, I used to work as a freelance IT consultant.  A role that basically meant I parachuted into various organisations, messed up their IT systems a bit, then did a runner after a few months (hopefully before they realised what I’d done), dragging behind me a modest sized sack of used ‘fivers’.  This meant that I spent extended periods away from home base, and away from my small number of climbing acquaintances (I’m sure my wife won’t mind being referred to such).

When searching for these freelance roles, I generally favoured those located close to a rock climbing area and/or decent indoor climbing gyms.  This just left me the problem of finding temporary climbing partners.  Sometimes I was based in a town where I knew someone reliable to climb with, but mostly it would be somewhere I didn’t know anyone.  Social media offered the best chance of hooking up, so I joined the biggest such UK based online climbing community (, knocked up a not entirely fictitious climbing profile, and posted for climbing partners at whatever town I was operating in at the time.

During my various placements I arranged several assignations via the ukclimbing “lifts and partners” forum.  These didn’t always turn out quite as well as I’d hoped.  One was a no show, one got kicked out of the climbing wall first route of the day, one hated me at first sight (obviously a discerning chap) and found another partner 30 mins into the session, one dropped me 20 foot onto the ground. The one positive experience was with a nice Czech guy (make of that what you will) who was great.  The hook up experience I’m going to elaborate further is the individual that got kicked out almost immediately.

It happened a few years ago at a certain university affiliated climbing wall in the Midlands of England. It was pretty busy, being an evening in October, shortly after freshers’ week – I had only ever been at lunchtime and didn’t realise quite how rammed it gets. Whilst I was sitting around waiting for my prospective new friend turn up I watched with interest as someone was dropped from around the fourth clip of a route nearby. He was injured a bit (not too bad I’m happy to say) and the centre manager was one of those in attendance.

As the incident was being sorted out, my new buddy turned up. We had a quick chat, I tied on, and led up the first route of the evening, under the interested gaze of the centre manager. Once I’d ‘sent’ the route (with a certain degree of competent aplomb, I’m not too modest to admit) the manager approached us and had a word with my erstwhile belayer. “You are not belaying safely, you are holding the belay device open whilst he climbs” says the manager. “Do you know how long I’ve been climbing for” responds my new best-est buddy”. “I don’t care how long you’ve been climbing” the manager solemnly intones “We’ve just had a accident due to bad belaying, and I don’t want another one. If you’re going to have an attitude, then you can leave and pick up a refund on your way out”. “This is why I hate climbing walls” sez my (soon to be) former best-est buddy, and off he stomps off. Leaving me sans partner. I potter around the bouldering area for a few minutes, before deciding that the volume of bodies is so great that a solo attempt of Fitz Roy (in winter, obviously) would be safer.

So off I toddle. Not a great evening. I wasn’t even offered a refund! And I never did get up Fitz Roy.  I’ve now taken up solo leading.  You know where you are with a shunt.

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