In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out on the Endurance to attempt to traverse the Antarctic continent. Years later he returned, having failed to achieve that goal. However, he writes that he and his crew returned rich in memories, having “suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory. Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” I’m not so full of conceit that I consider my experience equal to his, but I think that the quote pretty well describes the run up to the trip, and especially the time since then.
About a year ago now I started to make travel and training plans for a trip to Flatanger, Norway. I’d heard great things about the place and the climbing, so I went for it. I found out everything I possibly could, I even contacted a certain strong Czech climber for some knowledge. Over the course of 10 months I dreamt about all the routes I’d heard about; devoured every video, picture and blog I could find; became obsessed to the exclusion of all other climbs. I just didn’t care about other climbs or other places. I think I went outside a handful of times over the winter, and it always felt like a waste of time; a trip to Margalef at Easter was an absolute disaster, cut short because I didn’t want to be there.
The trip came round surprisingly fast, but I’d prepared as well as I knew how, and I had my list. 10 routes from 8c-9a (plus everything else), all of which looked amazing, some looked like they would suit me more than others, and I was more motivated for some for various reasons. I knew I was probably fit enough to climb one of the 8c+’s, which was the main goal, but I didn’t know if I was strong enough or good enough.
Gavin, a good friend of mine, said it was like how Ceuse was 20 years ago, and that was enough to convince me. This doesn’t come close. The scenery is better: it’ll make you stand there, deep in thought, feeling at one with nature whist you probably just look like a gormless idiot. But it’s OK. Everyone else is doing the same thing. The rock is better, by far the best I’ve ever climbed on. It makes holds which are just a pleasure to use, world class boulder problems, and the routes follow proper lines. Norway is a bit more expensive, and there’s not hundreds of routes at every grade, and the weather can be a bit fickle, but you’ll come down off every single route, successful or not, with a smile on your face.
As soon I arrived I knew I wanted to do everything. On the first day I tried Eye of Odin and it didn’t go all that well. Gavin has admitted to me since then that, based on that first day, he thought that I might not do it. I expected that though, what I didn’t expect was for it to come together as fast as it did. 5 sessions later, after falling off the last move of the last boulder problem, I clipped the chain with a big grin on my face. This was made all the more rewarding because I was belayed by Gavin, who has been like a mentor, as well as a good friend, since I started climbing.Filming: Matt Hardy and James France; Edit: Matt Hardy
After quickly doing Muy Verdes with a bit of encouragement from Mikey, which is probably more like bottom end 8c if you don’t onsight it, a couple routes seemed like the next obvious choices. Either Nordic Flower, which Alan was trying and basically repeating every day, or Little Badder, Seb Bouin’s monster 9a. I thought Nordic Flower looked like it was worth a flash attempt up to the first belay so I decided to leave that for a day of good conditions and try Little Badder. They share the same 25m ~8b to start but it’s possible to jumar past this section and start directly on the 9a bit.
It was going quite well considering the conditions and the 9a-ness of the route. I thought that I was closeish to doing it in a couple sections, so with 5 weeks to go and conditions improving, maybe I would have a chance.
On around my fifth session on it, I jumared up the 10m or so of fixed static rope, clipped in direct, sent down the jumar and gri-gri, unclipped, then started to climb. Three moves later I looked down to do a foot swap on the lip of the small roof I’d just climbed round. ‘Oh, shit’, was all I said as I saw my rope going straight down to Alan. No chance to down climb. Jump off? No. Jump and try and catch the static line? Unlikely. Move.
‘Go on, you know you can do it’, were the words I heard from Alan, and were the words I needed to hear.
Foot swap. Shit, my left foot’s not on right. Can’t adjust. My left arm is getting pumped already. ‘No…’, as my right hand came just short of the next hold, a good hold. A move I’d never fallen on since deciding on the sequence.
‘I’m alright’, were my first words after I rolled onto my back. I’ve got away with this, somehow. Then I saw my wrist. Blueish and black, about three times as big as it should be and S-shaped. No… What about all the routes I haven’t done yet!? Odd, how annoyed I was that I wouldn’t be able to even try them. Briefly, that was my main concern.
I saw another climber, Silvio Reffo, walk over. ‘Good effort on Muy Verdes’ I said, having seen him do it, despite wet holds at the crux, just before I started jumaring. He was somewhat bemused. ‘Take my shoes off, please’. The left one feels a bit tighter than usual, and it feels like I’ve pulled a muscle in my groin, and maybe my achilles too.
Over the next hour I experienced first hand the very best of the climbing community. I was unconscious for the second. Alan, having broken my fall onto the steep slope, probably saving me from permanent injury and a long slide to the bottom, supported my body to keep me flat for two hours. A few days later he told me he couldn’t feel his legs for a while after. Matt and James, who were there to film Alan (and make us all laugh after failing miserably on something. James gave me a particularly good pep talk for the Eye – ‘make it your bitch’), called the emergency services and ran down to meet them. I remember Matt legging it back up the slope with the stretcher before practically collapsing himself. Silvio’s partner, who is medically trained, checked my blood circulation and gave me some painkillers. Another man, who didn’t say a word, just looked me in the eye, and I knew that he would do everything he could to help. And he bloody well did. I’m sorry that I can’t remember everything that everyone did to help me, and that I don’t even know who many of you are, but if you are one of those people and you happen to be reading this, then please get in contact because I would like to thank you.
I woke up in Trondheim hospital late that evening. I later found out that I had a fracture dislocation in my wrist, three fractures in my pelvis, which was fortunately stable but extremely painful, and a shattered heel. They said the latter was ‘in little bits’, and, having seen the x-ray now, I can confirm that they didn’t exaggerate. The wrist and the heel needed an operation, but they weren’t confident they could do much about the heel, and that they needed to wait two weeks for the swelling to go down before they could operate. I couldn’t fly home either – it turned out that my insurance wouldn’t cover repatriation costs, but I couldn’t have flown in any case, even in an air ambulance.
Three weeks later I was on my way home with my Mum, who had flown out to help me back. It seemed like the operation had gone quite well, but because of the language barrier I couldn’t really be certain. I knew that I wouldn’t be walking for a few months though.
Now, almost 2 months since the accident, I feel like I’m past the regret, the what-ifs, anger and depression, and I’m making good progress by doing A LOT of physio. My pelvis is healed, lots of stitches and a pin have been taken out, and I found out that the operation had gone extremely well. There’s still a lot of work to be done, first to get my foot back to a normal shape with a normal range of motion, then to start walking again and building back some some of the muscle which has wasted away. Climbing properly again seems a long way off, but I will climb again – there’s plenty routes still on the list.