Wednesday, January 10, 2018

7 Reasons why you should start climbing this year

I discovered climbing nearly three years ago. Just before I started, I had this urge and a feeling to climb which I never had before. In fact, I used to be quite scared of the idea of climbing!  By this point, I have done quite a bit of cycle touring and hiking but I was new to the feeling of being off the ground during my adventures. Then something shifted and suddenly, when I walked in the Peak District, instead of looking ahead along the path, I started looking up towards the Edges at all the climbers, feeling the inexplicable urge to try it. I now know that what I experienced is quite a common thing amongst climbers- it is called the climbing psyche! 

I definitely blame this on the environment pressure. It is a similar thing to peer pressure but instead of your mates getting you to do something a bit risky, your environment changes you and inspires you to do new things. Living in Sheffield which is considered one the best places to climb in the UK, it was inevitable that I will get to try climbing eventually. I was really lucky to be taken by a friend (Thanks Hazel!) who is a climber. After one session I can honestly say that I got completely and utterly hooked. Even in such a short period of time, climbing has already enriched my life in so many ways that I have become a committed advocate of climbing to pretty much everyone that I meet. I have listed reasons why I think everyone should climb, toddlers, grandparents and everyone in the middle! 

  1. The squad

   Me and my pal Emily after I seconded her successful attempt on lead -photo courtesy of Ollie Crudge 

 The squad, crew, your pals or whatever you call your mates is probably the best thing about climbing. Your buddies are a really important element in climbing. You don’t usually climb on your own and so you develop really close friendships and partnerships with people. Often your life is in their hand and vice versa which can be a very powerful thing! You have to learn to trust your belay partners or bouldering buddies who can make or break your experience.  On occasions, I wanted to give up on a route or I was too scared to go on and my belay partners cheered me on. You wouldn’t believe how much energy this generates when you are 20 metres of the ground, pooping your knickers! 

I have never played a team sport but I imagine it is a similar kind of vibe. You get to the top of a route with your buddy and you feel that you have accomplished something together. That feeling is priceless.

Unless you do competitions (which is a small proportion of the climbing community) you don’t really compete with other climbers. Instead, you compete with the rock or the ‘problem’ (a word used to describe a single route in bouldering). Sure, you want to be better than you pals but really, if you can’t do the route, you can’t do the route! It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is able to do it or not. But what you can do, is work on the problem with your mates. This is where climbing is so unique. There doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser but you can both be winners and both do the problem. Together. That is pretty awesome stuff.

2. The Environment

           How many adventures can one place give you? It seems that a lifetime's worth.  

As a walker and a cyclist, the Peak District has been giving me a lot of inspiration over the years.  When I started climbing, it is as if a whole new layer of this adventure onion was uncovered.  Lao Tzu said that ''without stirring abroad, one can know the whole world''.  He was obviously talking about the 10 000 climbing routes in the Peak District which is enough to entertain me for a lifetime! Although, discovering places further away is also pretty magical. You can start here in the UK and if you prefer to be getting a tan when you climb, destinations like Kalymnos have to be pretty up there on the 10/10 scale. 

                   Views like this make you appreciate how much climbing can enrich your life 

When you start climbing and venturing outdoors, a whole new world will open up to you. You will visit places which you wouldn’t normally go to and you will develop a deep connection to the environment around you. The hills give you a hug when you need it and inspiration when you can’t find it anywhere else. You will realize that you are getting a lot without the environment asking you for anything. So in return, you will vouch to protect these places so that the generations that come after you, can experience this beautiful world again and again. 

3. It is good for your mental health

   Bouldering on a summer's evening after work - is there a better way to recharge your batteries? 

As any climber will tell you, if you have a hard and stressful day at work, you go climbing and low and behold- you no longer feel crap. It might be because of the fact that you just had a nice chat with your mates in between climbs or that fresh air and good views (if you are outside) has brought some inspiration.  Another reason might be that climbing requires your full attention and both mental and physical presence. This means that there is no space in your mind for anything else in that moment.  I guess you could call it a meditation. I find it is easier to empty my mind when I am active, rather than sat down in a meditation class! You finish your session and all of the problems from the day are somehow a lot more bearable with a fresh perspective.

                            Some people find their flow in Yoga- some in climbing

You will find that climbers often talk about fear. Fear and anxiety is something that we all experience in life one time or another. When you are climbing, you will most definitely feel scared sometimes. I do! When you go for the first time, it might be, that just being higher off the ground is quite enough to make you feel a bit shaky. As you progress as a climber,  you may not feel scared just climbing but you may feel nervous when you are trying a harder route, so essentially you always push your fear limit.  Look at this in the same way as learning to drive versus driving on a motorway, a few years later. Through this process, you realise that a lot of the time the fear is in your head and often has nothing to do with danger. What felt scary at the start is normal after a while as you develop more skill.  Acknowledging this fear is a really good thing as it makes you in tune with yourself, it makes you listen to your feelings. I find it really refreshing when I hear climbers talk about how scared they were on a route. Because if you can openly say that you were scared, chances are that you will not bottle up these sort of feelings in your personal life which can lead to some deep stuff, especially with young men who are still under pressure from society ‘’ to man’’ up. Feeling scared and anxious at times is normal and climbing reminds me of that all the time. So share your feelings, it is not a sign of weakness!  On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you should succumb to fear. If you let it take over, it will be hard to gain composure again. Sometimes fear can be good. It warns us when we are in danger which is a good thing but the problem is, that often we are not sure whether the risk is real or perceived.  I think it is fair to say that all climbers, including myself, are trying hard, chipping away at the skills of not letting fear control our minds when it matters, but back off when it is not safe to continue.

4. Your age (or what grade you climb) does not matter  

         At the end of the time, climbing is about having a good day out with your mates! 

Climbing is such a unique sport. I used to play tables tennis once upon a time and I can tell you that the vibe is very different. It literally does not matter what sort of grades you climb. You can have just as much fun and just as much of a challenge as the pro climbers. You can each pick a route which could be next to each other and is of different grade and get the same feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. 

There are also so many elements of climbing that there ought to be a style which suits your personality. If you are feeling strong, you can try bouldering where you develop powerful movements in between rests. If you prefer something of lower intensity but to climb much higher, you can try sport climbing where you are on a route for much longer but you have the safety of a rope with you. 

       Learning the basics of trad which often means learning to control the mind 

If you find that you really enjoy the mental element of climbing and you just love being in the mountains, traditional climbing might be perfect. ‘Trad’ climbing means that you put your own protection in place as you go along. There are some really hard routes out there but it is arguably one of the best ways to have an adventure in the hills because you are so self-sufficient and free. I often see older generation of climbers, (well past their 60!) who grew up on this style of climbing and although they don’t climb technically as challenging routes as they once did, their cheeks are still flushed with just as much adventure as what they really love is a good day out in the mountains. That never changes, so who cares about how hard you climb?  I hope that I am like that when I am that age. If you go to the other side of the age spectrum, you will find that children love climbing. It is our natural instinct to climb and nowhere it is so obvious than with small children who seem to have no fear. And how young is too young? My local climbing wall runs ‘’rock tots’- a climbing group for kids from 18 months old, so you can really start them young! 

 5. It is safer than you think

              Don't stop doing everything that has risk in it- instead, minimise the risks 

I used to think that climbers were all a bit you know, mad. I grew up in an environment where anything to do with the mountains was deemed as dangerous. My parents have always led me to be active but in a 'safety' of an indoor hall. A lot of people, myself included used to only perceive the (often inflated) risks of climbing, not really understanding the appeal of climbing in the mountains. I imagine that if your parents are mountaineers, you would have had a very different view on it as a child. Many people will discover the outdoors later on in life when the magnetic pull eventually will no longer able to be ignored. That is exactly what happened to me. As I begun to dip my feet in adventurous pursuits, I started to unweave my perceptions and making my own informed judgements about risks. I realized that often, it is not the thing that you do which is dangerous, it is everything else that you do around it. To use the driving analogy again, driving itself is dangerous. However, you can minimise your risks to make it relatively safe, otherwise no one would drive. If you drive drunk, rush, break the rules of the road, don’t learn properly and don’t pay attention, chances are that it is a recipe for disaster.  It is the same with climbing. A lot of accidents happen because of mistakes like not checking your safety knots or equipment, not quite knowing what to do or simply getting complacent.  The British Mountaineering council places a lot of emphasis on safety campaigns and measures and there is a lot of relevant advice. I am not in any way saying that climbing does not have any risks associated with it, sadly there can be accidents due to events out of your control. But if you minimize your controllable risks, you can enjoy this beautiful sport in a safe way.

6. You get stronger 

It is a great feeling when you see improvements and can do things that you previously didn't think were possible. 

If I asked you to come and have a workout with me where you do about 30 pull-ups, single legged squats, calf raises, bicep curls, hang off your fingers, practice splits and bend into all sort of body positions, you will definitely look at it as a workout.  When you climb, you will do precisely that but without realizing how hard you are actually working! I suspect that it is because you are concentrating on what you are doing so much that you have no time to think about anything else. As you start to climb, your body will change and it will become a lot stronger. I often hear people say that they wouldn’t be good at climbing because their upper body is weak. Don’t worry, legs are just as important in climbing! You can generate a lot more power from your legs and so it is a good technique to use them as much as possible, in order to take the pressure of your arms. When I started climbing, I couldn’t do a single pull up. Now I had to get rid and alter some of my clothes as they no longer fit around my lats:) 

7. The climbing boom

                   It is so good to see female climbers crushing hard and supporting each other 

Climbing used to have a bit of a reputation. It was seen as something that ‘’hardy adventurous (mostly guys) used to do. You would often find these so called ‘’Crag rats’’ living cheaply with very little gear with the one aim, which was climbing all day every day.  There were no indoor climbing walls so you learned to climb outside on the real rock. That is if you were lucky enough to know someone who would take you out. Nowadays it is very different. Climbing is booming. With its inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, it is now a lot less like I described above and a lot more mainstream. The culture is changing. Some old school climbers will long for the old days but I think the change is positive as it will encourage more people to explore the sport and ultimately get out into the outdoors.

Due to the unpredictability of the UK weather, we have to often rely on indoor centres which are currently growing in numbers faster than you can explore them! This is a really good thing as you can try and learn the basics of climbing indoors. Your local wall will run beginner sessions so that you can learn safely and properly.  In the past the only way to learn was by going outside straight away, usually with a friend. This is a great approach for some people who feel confident being outside.  But it may seem too scary for others who will be put off. Because sometimes, some of us need to go at thing slowly and push the comfort zone bit by bit. As confidence grows, so will the perception of what can be achieved which includes getting out on the rock! It is for these people that indoor places are so good. If you are interested in starting, just find your local climbing wall and give them a ring. Most are really friendly with qualified instructors and they will teach you the basics so that you can explore climbing safely. If you are based in Sheffield, my local walls run excellent bouldering as well as introductory sport climbing sessions. If you are itching to go outside and trying trad climbing (highly recommended), look out for someone who is very experienced and or qualified Mountaineering Instructor or Rock Climbing Instructor (Previously known as SPA). 

Indoor climbing is a great way to practise your movement technique 

When you go to a climbing wall, you will find that it is no longer a male-dominated sport which is brilliant. There are some guys and girls who are doing some epic things and pushing their limits which is so inspiring. In my group of friends, we have a good mix with some strong girls who crush pretty hard :)  

You can probably tell by now that for me, the most important thing is participation rather than smashing records. There is always someone who will crush more than you as well as there will always be people who will look up to you so don't get bogged down by comparing yourself to others! For me, the most important thing is to push my own limits and goals and have a good day out with my pals whilst I do it. And climbing for me is just that. Try it, you might find that it will be just the same for you. 


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