Right, see if you can picture this: we’re in Fontainebleau for the second time in three weeks; we’ve met an old friend that we had no idea was in the area; it’s dark and although being a bit drunk and getting a little lost we’ve finally managed to meet up with them again. Earlier was a dinner at a local Chinese restaurant… followed by some saki and now it seems like a stunning idea to try the famous Helicopter boulder problem. In the dark.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the brightest of ideas, especially considering that most of us don’t climb at font 7a but after a few drinks everyone thought it was a good idea and despite my amazing sobriety, I didn’t want to try and convince people otherwise. Besides, I wanted to give it a try.

So we got the mats out, got the shoes on and started stumbling our way up this problem. I still can’t figure out quite how people who couldn’t work can climb pretty damn well but I’ve known that for years and have never even quite managed a decent guess. The start was actually easier than I expected and I remember thinking, “This might go” as I slowly managed to get a move further with every effort, getting a wonderful Egyptian in and stretching high for the horrible sloper with the left hand before finally deciding that I needed added training in my left arm. I stepped away and let others have a try.

We had two rather large lads in our group of four, both of whom had decided they made fantastic spotters. So Terry steps up and starts giving the problem one last bash. He got the poor sloper with his left and went to launch across onto the nice big jug with his right and as he did, Terry took the all-too-familiar boulderer’s plunge.

As he did, Terry spun round in the air, facing away from the boulder. Due to the darkness, his spotter didn’t realise and I’ve been reliably informed since this incident that all said spotter saw was an arse. The next thing we all knew, Terry is sat on the mat with a two-and-a-half inch gash in the underside of his chin and Dave is stooping with two (I can’t figure out why two) gashes in the top of his head.

We patched them both up and you might be happy to note that they were both fine by the next morning but since then the whole incident has got me wondering. Working in an indoor climbing wall in Birmingham, I often have to speak to new climbers about the dangers involved in climbing, including the ominous phrase, “injury or death”. I’ve read it a thousand times in a thousand places and these days it just glosses over my head, normally accompanied by the thought, “It’ll never happen to me.”

But it does happen and to most people. Looking back, I’ve had pulled tendons, flapping skin, gashes, grazes, strains, jarred joints and more often than is probably normal, some uncomfortable incidents involving kicking myself in the head (in explanation: I am incredibly flexible).

This is becoming a bit gloomier than I was expecting and to be perfectly honest, for all the stupid stuff I’ve done in the past, I’m quite pleased with my list of injuries. After all, bouldering while drunk, in the dark is probably not the highlight of my intelligence but it does bear thinking about. I shall stop rambling now and leave you with a mild warning. Those disclaimers on the forms you all sign are there for a reason; head the warning and like the large sign in Ingleton Climbing Barn clearly states: “Beware: Falling Climbers.”

August 2006

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