Ripping The Flake For Arcteryx
Two months ago I ripped off the flake on Parthian Shot, at Burbage South in the Peak District. Tim Emmett, trusted friend and well-known British climber, belayed me, and eventually piggy-backed me down the trail. Thanks to everyone who lent a hand that evening- I really do appreciate it. I had spent a few days on the gritstone previously and was eager to try a real 'hard grit' line. And Parthian didn't disappoint. Incredible movement on a wild prow, very physical and delicate at the same time. The main gear is a string of wires and one small cam in the flake, which is at a little over half height.
Tim and I fooled around on the line all afternoon, dialling in the nuances and getting a feel for it. I one falled it on toprope. At that point I decided I would try to lead it. My friends Alex Honnold, Matt Segal and Kevin Jorgenson all took multiple wingers onto the flake. While I knew it wasn't 100 percent bomber, I thought it was more or less okay. There's always the unknown factor with headpointing. The element that makes is so exciting and dangerous at the same time.
I waited until sunset, tied in, climbed to the flake and wasted tonnes of energy getting the gear just right. Perhaps it wasn't 'just right'. I don't know. I hung on the gear, wondering what to do. It was getting dark. Finally, I decided to just punch it to the top. If I was ever going to have a hope in hell of successfully leading the pitch, I needed to know what it felt like to go for it above the flake.
As I climbed higher I got a deep pit-in-my-stomach feel that something wasn't right. The superstitious feeling came too late, though- I was way above the flake without a hope of downclimbing. The next thing I knew I was on the ground, spitting blood, struggling to breathe. I tried to weight my left foot, but I immediately knew it was broken. It felt like the bones were swimming. I suspect I fell somewhere between 35- 40 feet.
After Tim gave me a jarring piggy-back to the gravel trail (I had cracked a vertebrae, but thought it was just whiplash). Then the Mountain Rescue people came and carried me to the ambulance. Again, thanks so much to everyone for the help.
Two and a half months later, my foot is feeling better and I can finally climb again. The time on crutches has given me ample time to reflect on climbing, its inherent risks, and the rewards I get from it. In many ways, having an accident like this can be a blessing in disguise: a sobering reminder that climbing is indeed very dangerous. I learnt tonne from that trip, perhaps more than the sum of all my other ‘successful’ adventures.
A couple years ago, an old girlfriend told me, “Will, I don’t think you’re bold- you’re just numb to the consequences.” I shrugged off her comment at the time, but now I think about it lots. I strive to be more aware from now on, to strike that delicate balance between boldness and prudence.
Thanks to Arc’teryx and Five Ten for helping me out with this trip, and for the continued support. Even if the trips sometimes end in broken bones.