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Getting started – indoor climbing
If you are looking for a new sport to try this autumn Sportsister recommends giving indoor climbing a go. It allows you to use your entire body, stretching muscles you don’t exert in many other sports, as well as really using your brain too. It’s a real adrenaline sport and despite what you may think even if you are not a fan of heights it can still be for you.
Book a taster session
The best way to have a go is on an organised taster session at an indoor climbing wall, many even run women’s only sessions. All equipment is provided so it’s a low cost way to experience the sport. You can go with a friend or on your own and be partnered up with someone at the session.
You will learn the fundamental skills of tying in and belaying, which once you have mastered, allows you to partner up and enjoy your climb.
Audrey Seguy, manager of The Castle climbing centre in London runs a women’s club on Monday evenings. “It’s a friendly supporting environment for women to climb together and you don’t have to be at the same level as your climbing partner as long as you can tie in and belay safely,” she says.
“All of our walls have got routes of varying levels; there are easy routes and there are difficult routes. Your designated partner might choose a difficult route, you might choose an easy route and it doesn’t affect each other’s climbing enjoyment.”
If you enjoy your first go you can then sign up for a course. This means that you will be on a climbing wall with a nationally qualified instructor rather than just learning with friends which some people choose to do.
But I would recommend a course as the instructor will make sure at the end of the it that you’ve learned the basic safety skills and that you can identify whether you’re being safe or not. This gives you a sense of autonomy and confidence.
Win a taster session at The Castle climbing centre
If you would like to have a go at indoor climbing we have three pairs of tickets for The Castle Climbig centre in London, worth £60 each, to give away. All you have to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org with your Sportsister user name (sign-up here if you are not already a member) by January 5th, 2009 and you will be in with a chance of winning.
The three main types of indoor climbing
Top rope climbing is where the rope is already in place through anchors at the top of the wall. The climber is attached to one side of it and then will climb up the wall. On the other end of the rope you’ve got somebody called a belayer who controls the rope with the friction device. That enables them to stop the person if they fall. And to lower the climber back down when the climbing gets too tough.
Lead climbing is when you are climbing taller walls, but you bring your own rope and as you climb up you have to clip your rope into pre placed carabiners on the wall and it’s a bit trickier as when you climb up you have to let go with one hand to clip the rope through and also if you fall you might fall a little bit further so your belayer has to be a little bit more experience to cope with greater fall force.
And the third time of climbing is bouldering where you climb without a rope, but you don’t climb very high up. Generally bouldering walls will only go up to about three or four meters. There are also large mats underneath that help make the fall a bit more comfortable if you do fall.
In all these types of climbing, most climbing centers will have colour coded or otherwise identified routes which is basically a set of holds that you would use for your hands and feet to climb up the wall and that would be given a certain grade and that enables you to see what sort of level you’re at and how you can progress. It gives you a chance to sort of try different movements, as each grade might force you to have to learn a different movement to climb it and be able to achieve it.
Tactics and strategy come in to play as you try to work out the best route to get to the top, so not only is your body getting a great workout but your brain too. It’s a fantastic way to switch your mind off from everyday life as you plan which grips and holds to use to navigate your way to the top.
What gear do I need?
When you are just starting out you need very little. All the climbing equipment you need, (shoes, chalk bags, belay device, carabiner and harness) is usually included in your course price. But after a while, if you become a regular climber you may want to buy your own equipment. You will want to start with your own shoes as hire shoes may not fit well and can be smelly! Shoes will be about £50 from brands such as Scarpa and Red Chili. Try Field and Trek for a good selection.
You don’t need any particular clothing to start out, just make sure you won’t be restricted in your movements. If you do want to buy some new gear we would recommend climbing and yoga brand prAna. Or take a look at Gear For Girls dedicated climbing section stocking brands like Moon, E9, Patagonia, PrAna and Mountain Hardwear.
Here’s Audrey Seguy’s tips for choosing the right pair of shoes
- The number one mistake that people make when they buy their first pair of climbing shoes is to get the size wrong. Typically, rock climbers will wear very tight climbing shoes which can be very painful if you’re not used to it.
- Audrey says, ” When I first get a pair of climbing shoes I can literally only just squeeze them on and wear them for about 1 minute! But that would be for a performance pair that I wear in competition. I also have a more comfortable pair that I wear to warm up or do longer routes in. Some climbing shop employees encourage everyone to get tight shoes, but I don’t think that is necessary.”
- Don’t worry about the colour- everyone else is wearing ghastly climbing shoes and no one will notice yours!
- To get the best possible fit you won’t want to wear socks with your shoes.
- Go for an all-around pair as opposed to something that is more performance-specific (for example, some have down-turned toes that are aimed at climbing overhanging routes).
- Don’t limit yourself to women-specific models – you may find that the men’s shoes fit your feet better just as some men find that women’s models suit them best.
- Remember that you are only meant to wear them when you are actually climbing in so they can be a bit tight (but not excruciatingly painful). Bring a pair of flip-flops to wear when belaying or resting and only wear your shoes when on the wall.
Do I need to be very fit?
A basic level of fitness is required but you will soon see your fitness increase after a few sessions, few sports give a better all over workout than climbing. And while you might think you need big muscles this is actually considered a hindrance to professional climbers as it adds unwanted weight. But strength is required so repetitions with small weights will help you.
Where can I give it a go?
There are climbing walls all over the country – you can find your nearest one on the British Mountaineering Council site www.thebmc.co.uk
If you do get hooked you will no doubt want to have a go outdoors too. While the weather may be unpredictable at times, the UK does have some fantastic areas for climbing. North Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District are just three of the more renowned areas. This is a recommended area in Wales: www.pyb.co.uk/courses/rock-climbing.php
You may also consider going abroad where the weather is more reliable. The Castle has links with a guiding organisation in Spain, and they offer very affordable trips to the Catalonia area.
Mountain Girl runs fun and challenging climbing workshops and bespoke guiding for women in the UK, Chamonix and Turkey. www.mountaingirl.eu/
Chicks Unleashed are walking, mountaineering and climbing experts and offer courses for women, designed by women and guided by women in Scotland, Cornwall and Sardinia.www.chicks-unleashed.co.uk/
www.thebmc.co.uk – You can find a complete directory of climbing clubs and climbing walls in the UK on the British Mountaineering Council site.
www.castle-climbing.co.uk – One of the best indoor climbing walls in Europe
www.prana.com – One of the best women’s climbing brands around
www.gearforgirls.com – Women only retailer with a good range of climbing gear
www.fieldandtrek.com – Visit Field and Trek for a selection of climbing shoes
Louise Hudson, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Photo credits: Charles Shearn and Cordelia Molloy