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started as a way to keep fit and also gain
Following a trip to the Outdoor Show at Olympia in February 2005 where there was a little portable wall we went along to the Mile End Climbing Wall to investigate. Everything seemed a bit big, confusing and there was a definite 'clique' amongst the young new age grungies who seemed to make up most of the climbing fraternity, feeling slightly old and out of place we carried on and finally after several weeks managed to stay on the traversing wall for a decent time without causing too many traffic jams. At this stage we were still only going sideways though, not really climbing but it was an introduction to moves needed for bigger things and also great help in teaching balance and confidence. We still didn't have the courage to go up any of the big walls, nor any knowledge of how to get started, the walls just looked confusing, lots of holds with coloured tags underneath.
Not knowing really where to start we thought we had better book into a beginners course at Mile End to learn the basics, knots and how to belay. Unfortunately the course didn't really devote much time to climbing up the walls with a rope, it seems that most people here are more interested in bouldering - climbing short distances without ropes, but still high enough off the ground to make you feel unsecure.
Once we had the basics we progressed slowly using some of the fixed ropes set up on certain walls but Liz was still finding things hard going and hadn't attempted any proper routes, particularly because it was difficult to work out what the routes actually were because Mile End uses tags rather than coloured moulded holds and some of the tags had fallen out! The idea is you follow a set coloured route using the bolt on holds for your feet and hands, where there are features or slight dimples in the structure of the wall you can use these for your feet but no other colours can be used.
Easter 2005 and on our way up to the Yorkshire Dales. we decided to stop off at Leeds Climbing Centre the difference between Leeds and Mile End was inspirational - so much space, clean, huge walls and the other climbers talk to you! People came up to us asking if they could borrow bits of gear, a couple who had been climbing next to us decide to get a little chatty and asked whether I could go up a route that they had struggled on to see if I thought it was graded correctly. They usually went to another centre and were finding some of the climbs a little over graded. I wasn't sure what to expect really and hoped that I wouldn't embarrass myself by not making the climb, thankfully it proved quite easy and was a really nice route, so good in fact that Liz also wanted to have a go but by then she had already taken her shoes off and was getting ready for leaving. The only thing to watch out for is when Leeds United are playing at home and as the ground is close to the climbing wall we found it difficult to park. It can get quite busy although we have been during the week when it has been virtually empty but even when it is busy there are enough climbs to keep us occupied. After a couple of trips Liz surprised herself by making most of the grade 4 climbs without struggling and a few grade 5's.
Having been to another centre we realized that Mile End wasn't helping us to progress so the search began for another centre in London. The Castle looked good but was busy and quite expensive so we opted for Westway, close to my office and relatively easy to get to for a few hours climbing in in the evening.
Even though Westway is in London it still takes 90 minutes to get there from home which can be a bit tiring if we want to go at weekends, especially when the underground is not working! So we spent a weekend driving around the South to seek out another centre to use and came across Craggy Island at Guildford, a little smaller than Westway but still only 90 minutes from home and slightly more technical climbs. This has meant that by alternating where we go we have been able to notice progress and use moves learnt on climbs at one centre in the other.
One of the problems with indoor wall climbing is, just as you are about to master a route and start enjoying it they go and change it! Of course this keeps things challenging but it is sad when a route that you have struggled over for months is discarded and the holds that you have got to know and learnt to trust or in some cases beware are taken down and recycled elsewhere. Particularly if this happens before you have completed the route. There you are heading of to the centre thinking about what you would do differently and you get inside to find a set of clumpy pink and black spotted holds in the place where your nice familiar big jugholds had been.
Towards the end of 2005 Westway went one better and not just changed the routes but they have installed a range of new, very orange, walls replacing some of the beginner friendly walls that had lots of nice features to smear into. It was a bit of a shock at first where there was a nice ledge to rest on there is a flat board, even the sections that have inbuilt features appear to be flat at first, later inspection reveals subtle little ledges and clefts that you can just about get the edge of a shoe on.
Designed to make you climb using only the designated holds the new routes at first appeared to be much harder than those of a similar grade before but gradually the route becomes clearer as do the advanced techniques required to make up for the lack of features.
It is amusing to think that barely a month after Liz commented that there werenít enough low grade climbs Ė that is grade 3ís and she couldnít complete many of the routes she managed to do her first grade 5 and then a grade 6 and now isnít satisfied unless she has done 2 or 3 Grade 5ís and maybe a grade 6 every time we go.
Our 2005 holiday in Chamonix gave us the opportunity to climb on real rock.at Les Gaillands with the help of an instructor who set up some fixed ropes for us we had a fantastic time climbing in the sun with Mont Blanc behind us. One year later we were back and had 3 sessions with instructors from the Compagnie des Guides covering basic rock techniques, lead climbing and our first multi-pitch route.
We now regularly climb during the week at Westway in West London and have occasional trips to Craggy Island in Guildford and the Leeds Climbing Centre if we are passing but unfortunately haven't had time to get out on any of the sandstone climbs around Kent.
If you want to find out how to start out climbing or to find a climbing centre near you it is worth getting in touch with the British Mountaineering Council