Why do we climb? Why is there a whole sport dedicated to scaling difficult to scale walls, only to be lowered down again as if you never got to the top at all? I think climbing is one of those sports that is pure in its challenge, in it’s trying to be better than you were yesterday and in feeling a pure sense of accomplishment over an outwardly and seemingly pointless activity. There is so much more to climbing than just scaling walls, there’s the self-mastery of your fear, the people you meet and enjoy the company of, there are the adventures and trips that make you feel so glad to be alive. What could be a better way to spend your time than connecting with others, connecting with yourself and connecting with nature: and here is perhaps a core feature that makes climbing such a gripping sport.
At the weekend I experienced outdoor lead climbing for the first time. This means clipping in your quickdraws as you go to bolts attached to the wall. Between carabiners, the last point of protection can sometimes be below you, which makes falling so SO much scarier. On top rope, falling is no bother. On lead, it really ought to be no bother but it’s pretty terrifying when you’re last anchored to the wall below yourself because you have twice as far to fall, even if you’re only 4 inches above the last quickdraw – it can take a lot of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to let yourself fall. You know you will be caught. You know you won’t get hurt. You trust your belayer, otherwise you wouldn’t have started the climb, and still, you shit it.
This kind of climbing is known as sport climbing, and I think it’s probably the most popular type of outdoor climbing. There’s something very different about sport climbing outside compared to the climbing gym. As with all outdoor climbing, the route can be less obvious, the heights are a bit more, and the scenery is second to none. We went to Portland in Dorset, which is an area of some of the best coastal climbing in the UK. On one side you are faced with dramatic wall faces that command a beauty of their own, and on the other, the vastness of the sea: so vast and so beautiful yet in the same breath, so dangerous with no fucks given about swallowing you up in its gentle gargantuan currents, just like that. Mother nature never ceases to fascinate me. Below is a list of observations from popping my outdoor sport climbing virginity:
- Limestone is sharp and hurts your fingertips.
- Being above the last quickdraw makes me very nervy. I need to fall more and get OK with falling!
- That falling on the rope is still fine, even though it’s scary – I did fall unexpectedly and funnily enough, the system worked. I live to tell the very uneventful tale.
- Climbing on the sun-trap side of rockface is confusing for my sense of time; it really felt like a beautiful spring day!
- Grades outside are much harder than their numerical counterparts in gyms – hello vanity grading! (I don’t even know if this is a thing, but I imagine so!)
- Deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is your friend when you’re internally screwing and freaking.
- The frustration of not making a route you thought you’d flash is incredibly humbling as it is frustrating.
- Good company is an essential component of a great trip – this is something that Black Lizard Climbing and Mountaineering Club nail! Link if you want to come and join or try us out.
- I need to climb more – goals, goals, goals!
- Climbing is an emotional sport, much more than I ever gave it credit for when I started. I remember saying to a climbing friend years ago, that climbing was great because there no emotion involved, it was just methodical and logical. She disagreed and thought it was an incredibly emotional sport. I’m more inclined to agree with her… 4 years later!