I think it was the images of ‘hanging tough’ and the Tough Mudder monkey bars that inspired my TM team mate Sandra to suggest we start climbing. It was something that she had been tempted to try for a while and this seemed like the perfect excuse (if any was needed) to start. She first proposed the idea to me at the end of one of our early morning swims and, full of endorphins and enthusiasm, I found myself agreeing.
Back at our desks it only took a quick search online for us to find a wall that was easy for us both to get to and a brief email later saw us booked in for an induction lesson later that week.
I had actually had my first taste of climbing many years previously, albeit only cursorily. Growing up with the Peak District on our doorstep and with parents who instilled a belief that a good solid pair of walking boots and an anorak constituted core wardrobe items meant that we spent a good proportion of our childhood holidays enjoying outdoor pursuits. It was on one such holiday that we took a handful of climbing lessons and got to grips with the basics of assisted (rope) climbing. However, like many holiday activities, this fell by the wayside once we were back at school and, save for the occasional trip to my university climbing wall (no doubt in an attempt to impress some boy or other), I didn’t really climb much again until Sandra and I started in earnest.
The Arch at the Biscuit Factory is one of the biggest climbing facilities in the UK and boasts over 11,000 square feet of bouldering. It is also one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been to and from the start of our first lesson we were well looked after and put at ease.
Bouldering is primarily about technique and problem solving. There are no ropes and no harnesses, so once you’ve climbed up, you then have to negotiate your way down (which at times is trickier than it may sound, not least when your last ounce of energy has been used getting up the wall in the first place). Routes are colour coded and graded from v0 to v9 (f5+ to f7c) and vary in style and difficulty for each grade.
The lack of ropes and harnesses meant that for the first few climbs for at least the first month I had to overcome The Fear – an anxiety of falling which, ironically, seemed to increase the chance of doing so by bringing forth incredibly shaky hands and jelly-like legs. Luckily, once I had taken a fall or two and, despite the odd bump and graze, found that it left me relatively unscathed, this did start to diminish and now only emerges on the rarest of occasions.
As the months have gone on I have to say I’ve become truly addicted. Completing a route, particularly one which has evaded you for a session or two, is so rewarding. Having a technique breakthroughs is even more so. Things that don’t at first seem natural for your body to do – like transferring your weight over to a foot which is positioned on a tiny foot hold above hip height – eventually become second nature…or at least easier. Whenever we go climbing now, time just seems to slip by and it is only when I find my arms can no longer hold my weight that I realise two or three hours have past. Everyone at the wall is so willing to give advice and asking for guidance or watching other climbers really helps you to improve. While I am still a long way off where I would like to be in terms of ability, I can feel myself improving month on month, which is so satisfying. And at the end of a long session, when you are all sweaty and chalky, you can top off your session with a nice cup of tea from the café and a tasty treat (for me usually in the form of a Nakd bar!) enjoyed curled up on the sofa.
To read more about The Arch Climbing Wall follow this link to their website. For first time climbers just book an induction then all you need are a pair of trousers you can move easily in and a t shirt; you can hire shoes and chalk from the wall.