His son raced up. But when Adrian Mourby tackled a granite slab in Wales, he was just grateful for that rope

I spent the weekend rejoicing in the fact that I was not going to die. Climbing does that to you, especially when you have Spiderboy for a son. John, our 14-year-old, had long wanted to go rock-climbing en famille. He had done a certain amount with the school. This was his chance to show off.

I spent the weekend rejoicing in the fact that I was not going to die. Climbing does that to you, especially when you have Spiderboy for a son. John, our 14-year-old, had long wanted to go rock-climbing en famille. He had done a certain amount with the school. This was his chance to show off.

Climbing is an odd thing to do. Even our instructor, Dave Orange, admitted that it is not natural. And Dave had been on the British expedition that conquered the north face of Everest in 1988.

It is also scary. Maybe not to 14-year-olds, but to any sane human being it feels utterly wrong. We have feet, and feet are meant to be on the ground, not hanging 20 feet above Barmouth Slabs in Wales, scrabbling to find a half-inch ledge.

Now, above me, I can see Dave working the "top rope system", which ensures that, should I slip, there won't be more than a foot or so of abject terror before I'm held. Nevertheless, I'm scared.

John is already up there, having shot up this 60ft crag 10 minutes ago. Below waits Kate, my wife, shouting encouragement.

Dave is ex-Army, an NCO. He has taken pack-loads of juvenile offenders orienteering. He has rescued hundreds of people across the mountains of Scotland. He has performed burial rites for climbers on Everest.His craggy face has a natural authority which kept John in line until we were ready to tackle a proper climb.

But first, traversing with both hands had to give way to traversing with one hand behind our backs, then with a flat pebble on the back of one hand and finally with pebbles on hand and boot. This was to establish control and awareness of our movements. By then, John was desperate to prove how good he was, so we moved up to a cliff face, at the top of which Dave was preparing our safety ropes.

"Do you want to go first?" my wife asked.

"Don't mind," I replied. "Do you?"

But what we were really saying was "Can we go home now?"

Dave handed out harnesses, calmed our fears and explained the terminology. "Climbing now Dave!" meant we were starting up. "Give rope!" meant we were stuck and needed to skeeter left and right looking for toeholds. "Take in!" meant we were scared and needed the reassurance of a tighter safety line.

"Climbing now Dave!" boomed John. Within seconds, Spiderboy had used tiny ridges on the rocks to bound up 20 feet.

"I will not fear," said Kate, repeating the "Litany against Fear" from Frank Herbert's Dune. "Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass through me. And when it has gone, only I will remain."

"Give rope, Dave!" cried John, now stuck.

"Keep looking at your feet," Dave shouted back. "Your hands will always find a grip. Your feet won't unless you look."

"I'm trying!" John yelled.

I was impressed by how soon he made it, but then anxious. We were next.

"You go," said Kate.

The first 20 feet were OK, but then my right leg went into an uncontrollable spasm as I struggled for a fresh finger hold.

"More rope!" I shouted as I edged my left foot across to a crevice. I flattened myself against the cruel, grey granite and regrouped my spent emotional forces. After the half-way point, I realised I might not die today after all. And as I finally lifted myself over the lip, Dave welcomed me with a grin. "It is a wonderful thing to be alive," I gasped.

We still had to get Kate up. I could hear her moving from foothold to foothold, grunting like a centre-court tennis player. At one point I heard her ask Dave if she really had to finish. "You can do it," he said. The wind bore away her reply.

Finally, her little red helmet emerged over the parapet and beneath it a grin. "I feel I've really achieved something," she groaned.

Adrian Mourby and family went rock-climbing with Activities Abroad (0870 4445320; www.activitiesabroad.com), which offers weekend breaks in Wales from £210 per person

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