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Is misadventure the way to learn?

I had the pleasure of meeting Sam Farnsworth when he visited me on the BrandAPeel Show. In our discussion about brand storytelling I learned some interesting things about one can learn when they take an advanced rock climbing course and how it's about mental strength, perseverance, and assessing risk.

Sam mentioned a recent blog post he wrote and he was nice enough to share it with me to publish in the next issue of APeeling digital magazine.

Here is his story:

Not all days out climbing are created equal. Sometimes you achieve what you set out to do, a certain route or peak completed. Job done, home for tea and cake. These days can be brilliant immersive fun or even just ‘fine’ but I find that when everything goes to plan the memories quickly fade. However, other times you come home with experiences and memories that just seem to marinate with time. When adventure flirts with misadventure we return home a tiny bit changed. For many of us, this is the basic appeal of heading outdoors. If we knew what was going to happen, what would be the point in going?

I was a student the first time I visited Craig Doris on North Wales Llyn Peninsula. It must have been ten years ago. The rock there is renowned for being a tad reluctant to support a climber’s full weight. My friend Tim described it nicely, ‘Good from afar, but far from good”. It’s a place where it’s fairly easy to find the meeting point of adventure and misadventure.

I remember inching my way up on that first visit, with holds flaking off or crumbling under my weight. The safety gear, to my stressed little mind, was not going to hold a fall. It was providing only psychological support. At one point I looked down past my feet, my eyes refocusing on the boulder beach below. A bead of sweat mixed with dust slid, stinging into my eye. I was convinced I’d fall if I let go to wipe it away. Basically, I was not in my happy place.

After a lot of playful abuse/encouragement from my partner holding the ropes below, I eventually reached the top. The next job was to create an anchor strong enough to hold my partner if he fell following up after me. After searching for a while the best I could do was to pop my arm into a rabbit hole and claw through the dusty soil creating a loop through which I could thread the rope. Luckily he fall off while seconding the route so the strength of the rabbit hole was never tested.

As we walked across sheep-filled fields to the car, life was good again ‘It wansn’t too bad’, the second half was a lot easier’, ‘some of the gear was o.k?’. The truth is that we’d been just on the boundary with misadventure. I learned a little bit about myself and returned home marginally wiser. I can still recall the feeling of that sweat sliding into my eye and the fear that meant I couldn’t even wipe it away. Are these the experiences I actually want to have?

Much more recently, just a couple of months ago, an unusually calm winters day sent us back to Craig Doris. This time was different. I looked down past my feet, leaned back and let out a whoop of pure joy. The same rock was now a treat to climb. A simple childish joy. Ten years flirting with (and sometimes finding) misadventure had shifted my comfort zone. What was once right on the edge was now just a fun day out. The memory of this second, more recent day is already starting to fade. The first trip is still a clear memory. When it all goes well, when it's seems easy, maybe we learn a little less?

Please share your thoughts about this story and if you have a story you'd like to share in the next issue of the APeeling Digital Magazine - please click here to learn how to submit a story.


Sam Farnsworth is the co-owner of Climbing Academy in Wales UK where he takes rock climbers out to push their limits and see what they can achieve.

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