By Rod Smith
The scariest lead that I can remember was about five years ago and it was my first trad lead after eight years away from climbing.
The pair of us rocked up to Secret Swinger (16) at the Wolgan and I was given the first pitch which, after an awkward start, is cruisy and well protected. I wobbled my way up and with great relief downed the rack in the sandy apocalyptic cave that is the belay.
After finding some attached sandstone amid the sand and blocks, I built an anchor and brought the other bloke up. When he got there he announced that he wasn’t interested in doing the second pitch and I’d have to.
Despite my protests I found myself climbing out under a roof, over a small rooflet and into a flaring corner. Nervous as hell I dropped three of the guy’s larger Camalots – he racked them in threes on one ‘biner which I hate – and watched as they hit the deck.
After stitching the first few metres with my remaining gear, I found myself horribly lacking in gear for the rest of the flaring corner crack and simply had to run it out for the last four or so metres to the top.
Feeling frightened and alone and buffeted by a stiff breeze that increased my feeling of isolation, I tentatively made my way upwards. I remember screaming gibberish, my mouth feeling like sandpaper as I wished I was somewhere else.
I also remember random, ridiculous thoughts like reassuring myself that my handjams would not involuntarily spring open like a boiled clam, that my harness buckle was still doubled back and that the knot wasn't untying of its own accord.
I also remember glimpsing my tent back at the Capertee campsite and wishing I was down there with a beer watching someone else doing this...
Then I mentally slapped myself and returned to the situation at hand which demanded that I shut the hell up and continue climbing...
After I eventually topped out and tied myself into a bomber nut I sat for a little while. I felt exhausted, and then the endorphins kicked in and I was exhilarated.
I’ve since been back twice since and led what it now a demystified climb. It's a familiar and friendly route but the chemical hit after I climb it never as good as that first time around.