I remember being a kid and driving past an old Church with a tall spire that had been converted into a climbing wall some years before. It captured my imagination and ignited my curiosity. The idea of climbing to the top of that spire filled me with fear, but the adventurer lying dormant inside me was desperate to give it a try.
I came from a low-income family, and as a kid, things like climbing/mountaineering always seemed out of reach. So, I never did get to go inside. I think my parents presumed it was too expensive and too out of their comfort range to let me try. But I am making up for lost time now! I have pushed myself and worked hard to give myself new adventures and opportunities in life, and I am taking advantage of as many as I can.
So, here is how I got into climbing and what I have learned so far, and why I think it’s a great sport to try.
When I first moved to Leeds, there was a bouldering wall practically round the corner. Bouldering is an excellent way of getting into climbing as you don’t need any climbing equipment apart from shoes, which you can hire. Another added benefit of bouldering is that you don’t need a partner.
Bouldering soon became a great rainy-day activity, a good strength workout, with a bit of problem-solving to keep the mind active. Unfortunately, as I only went occasionally, I never got any good at it. When we moved away, it became even less frequent. Nonetheless, still enjoyable!
When I discovered a bigger wall a couple of years ago, it had a bouldering wall and a few auto-belays. Essentially, they are what you get at a clip and climb centre, so it gives you an opportunity to go on ‘big walls’ without a partner. Inductions are essential for autos as you need to know how to put a harness on properly.
Climbing on the ‘proper walls’ was when I really started to enjoy climbing. As climbs are graded, it’s easy to become competitive with yourself. I love that I can measure my progress in a way that’s a little harder to do with other sports. Autos have some downsides; as you try and do more challenging routes, fatigue steps in you wish you had a partner to give you rest! Being on a rope also made me more nervous about bouldering. After two quite bad falls on bouldering walls, you realised why rope climbing is safer!
Top roping has completely revolutionised climbing for me! It brings in so many elements to climbing I didn’t really know existed. I should have done the course sooner, but until 6 months ago, I never had a partner, so it seemed like the course would be a bit redundant. However, I ended up meeting one of my climbing partners through the course itself! So its worth doing it anyway.
So, what have I learnt about top roping?
Firstly, trust in your belay partner is essential. I won’t let just anyone belay me. I don’t know their skill level, or how well they communicate. Although you don’t want to be rude when someone offers to belay you, your life is literally in their hands, you can’t be shy about saying no.
Secondly, falling is scary, super scary, which links back to point number one. Finally, climbing is actually a really social activity! You soon realise there is a little community of climbers which you integrate yourself into as much or as little as you like. For me, climbing with my friends and going for a drink afterwards is a perfect social way to spend an evening.
Top roping has been super fun. A tight rope and a good partner means you have the confidence to push yourself to the absolute limits while still feeling safe. When I started top-roping, I was hovering around the 4/4+ grades. A few months later, I am chipping away at the 6bs. It’s an awesome transition into the 6+ grades. You are forced to think about what you’re doing, how your body is moving, where your feet are going etc. As my friend said to me, ‘we are getting better as climbers’, I understood 100% what he meant, and it’s a pretty good feeling!
How scary is this sh**?!. When we did the top rope course, our instructor advised us not to wait too long until we did the lead course. He said, ‘you don’t want to get too comfortable with the safety of a top rope’.
Lead climbing is the next logical step if you eventually want to climb outside. But the mental aspect of it is something I struggle with. Usually, I like the top rope so tight I wedgy myself. Going from that to the ‘exposure’ of no safety net between clips is pretty anxiety-inducing. I’ve always had an acute fear of free-falling. That’s why I hate Tarzan swings at go ape and detest rollercoasters. So, the idea of falling just as I have a handful of rope as I am about to clip in fills me with quite a lot of fear. Some people don’t have a problem with it, and fall practice is a good way of getting yourself more comfortable with the prospect.
I worry that my ‘fear’ is creating a hindrance in this phase of my climbing journey. I found myself going backwards on grades while I got more comfortable with clipping etc. I am a lot less bold and a lot less confident. Having said that, I still do it, and I still try. At this stage, its about as much as I can ask of myself. I want to climb outside this summer. With that, I know that most outdoor routes are lead routes, so I need to keep pushing so I can keep the journey going!
If climbing is something you want to try, just give it a go. With the right instructor and partner, climbing is a very safe sport. The fact that you can set yourself very tangible goals, see yourself improving etc means it’s the best personal challenge. Give it a go, and you may surprise yourself.