Why trad climbing makes you a geek

“This is just a Diff, it should be really easy!” – I was furiously thinking to myself, as I scrambled around for somewhere, anywhere, to put in a piece of protection for my climb up. But apart from the wide cracks, into which I couldn’t even jam my (admittedly tiny) hands, there was nowhere that I could see with the naked eye to place my metal pieces of gear…was I supposed to solo this thing??

It amazed me how different I felt trad leading in Stanage, Derbyshire, compared to my first ever trad lead in the Wye Valley. There, I led a VDiff and moved quickly onto a Severe without any problems.

Severe is the next level up from Hard-Very-Difficult, or HVD for short. Trad climbing grades go from Moderate to escalating Extreme grades, denoted by the letter E with numbers from 1 to 11, which is explained in detail here by Rockfax.

You can read about my impressions of my first trad leading experience here.

The reason for such a difference in the way I felt this time around compared to the Wye Valley became apparent pretty quickly: the type of rock. In the Wye, we climbed on limestone, while Stanage is popular for its abrasive gritstone.

‘But surely rock is just rock?’, I hear you say.

Well, that is exactly what I thought before I really got into climbing. When friends with a bit more outdoor experience would talk passionately about the differences between limestone and grit, and complain about how hard it is to climb on sandstone, I admit I thought they were a little boring, and ever so slightly mental.

It suddenly became all-important when I finally made the proper transition to outdoor climbing, and my addiction to the sport flourished.

Watch a video of my first ever trad climbing experience here.

The UK, for its small size, is home to a very diverse range of rock types, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in Wales, which is home to everything from fairy-tale slate quarries to limestone sea cliffs, from granite to rhyolite.

The diversity of rock types in this country means one weekend I find myself slipping off polished limestone footholds in the Wye Valley, and the next I’m scraping the skin off my knuckles in the abrasive gritstone cracks in the Peak District.

It also means very different approaches to the art of trad climbing, as different rock types are best suited to different types of gear.

Which one do I go for...?
Which one do I go for…?

In general, I found my first go at trad leading on limestone in the Wye Valley far easier than our latest trip to Stanage, where the easiest route felt alarmingly unprotected.

In the Wye, I had great fun playing around on a 63 metre VDiff multi-pitch. In Stanage, I thought I was going to fall off and die on an 8 metre long Diff route. (Although I did eventually man up, and led an 18 metre HS 4b, but that took every little bit of courage I had!)

As I have previously written, trad is all about feeling safe and confident, and Stanage tested my faith in myself to a far greater extent than my first limestone leads, and more than once I wanted to just come down off the rock face and call it a day.

I think it partly comes down to the fact that I found it far easier to place protection into the limestone rocks in the Wye, with lots of useful cracks in the rock that are just perfect for nuts and hexes (you can see one of those in the picture below).

A beautifully placed hex, even if I say so myself.
A beautifully placed hex, even if I say so myself.

The gritstone in Stanage, on the other hand, is famous for its large and wide-mouthed cracks which are just perfect for cams – a much more expensive piece of gear, which we are for now lacking in out trad rack (partly due to its cost), and which is tougher to use.

Cams are popular in the US for that exact reason – the rock in many parts of the country lends itself really well to camming devices. However, it takes a bit more experience to place these pieces of gear correctly.

Cams are an active type of protection, which can move around inside the crack as it gets loaded, and therefore jam and get stuck. The advantage of nuts and hexes, traditionally preferred in the UK, is that they are cheaper and much less likely to get jammed. That’s our British style, always choose simplicity.

We really did think we could get away with not owning any cams in the lower grades, but the trip to Stanage suggests otherwise, so we will have more expenses coming our way before long. I guess me and my climbing partner Valentina have our birthday and Christmas wish list sorted for years to come!

A special thanks goes to Tamsin for the amazing photos she took of the trip – check out her portfolio here, she really is a wonderfully talented photographer.

She has also written a guest blog about her experience, so check it out too.

Thanks also to  Wild Country for our set of quickdraws and to Sterling for our super-light and super-colourful rope! (Fusion Nano 9.2mm Dry in bright purple, if you were wondering)

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Making climbing memories last a lifetime

This is a guest post written by my friend Tamsin who is trying to get into climbing photography. She writes about her first experience of photographing climbers in action at our latest trad climbing trip. You can read more about that adventure here. 

I find myself hanging 30 metres up a wall, with the trees below me and the breeze in my hair.

A question I often ask myself to assess how I’m doing in life is: “Would my 13 year old self be impressed by this?” It might seem like a weird way to assess your life, but I have a strong belief that you should approach life with a childish mind-set if you want to enjoy yourself.

The answer to my question is YES. Thirteen year old me would think I was the coolest person in the world for that precise moment alone!

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Climbing became a huge part of my life back in 2011 and since then I have striven to work out a way to make a living out of it. It is hard though: when you know you will never go pro and you just don’t have the balls to train up as an instructor, your options become very limited.

I studied film production at university and in my final year I wrote my entire dissertation on extreme sports film making, but I never truly believed that I could do the kind of stuff the camera men from Sender Films were doing.

My answer to anyone now who may think that is: You are capable.

multi-pitch

I learnt that the rope work involved in suspended photography is very different to that of climbing, no matter what discipline. Though climbing is relevant still, the way in which you secure yourself to the wall is something completely new to me. And on top of that, it feels so much safer!

Anna lead

While my friends were trad climbing up towards me feeling quite uncertain of themselves and the route ahead, I was quite happy dangling over the ledge using my legs as leverage to reposition myself to get the perfect shot.

There is still a certain amount of trust you have to gain in yourself when it comes to climbing to that height with a camera on your back. I lost my lens cap on the first day, which was a lesson hard learned.

But what surprised me most of all was that once you are up there, it is really quite easy to sit and shoot like you would anywhere else. And in fact the angle options which are opened up to you make your photographs a hundred times better.

I am still yet to fully commit, and I need to take a rope access course to ensure my own safety. But I am happy after my first proper trip out and I can’t wait to work on my portfolio!

miura

 

If you are interested in Tamsin photographing your trip, send an e-mail to tamsineb@gmail.com

 

Please also check out our new YouTube project called Vertical Souls, which I have embarked on with Tamsin and my climbing partner Valentina, and LIKE our Facebook page!!!

You can read more about the project here.

 

The mind game of rock climbing British style

I never thought I would get so excited about something as mundane as a crack in a rock or a well-rooted tree.

Before leading my first trad climb, this sport was mostly about pushing myself physically for me. But this time, it was all about pushing myself mentally.

Traditional climbing, or ‘trad’ for short, is a type of rock climbing that dominates the scene in the UK, where a climber must put in his or her own points of protection into a rock face while going up, and then clip the rope into these. Its European counterpart is sport climbing, where the metal bolts are already built into the wall for a climber to clip into.

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Approaching the first ever route I was going to lead by myself in the heart of the Wye Valley I tried to focus on the job at hand instead of going mad with nerves and excitement. It was hard to be too serious about it all anyway, when every step I took made me sound like a herd of cattle, all the gear attached to my harness clinking away almost melodically.

Trad climbing is a mind game. Your safety hangs entirely on your own skill at placing the gear into the rock, and confidence can make the difference between going up and freezing in terror in the middle of a rock face.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with this fear. I find (and my climbing partner Valentina definitely agrees!) that singing to myself, or even out loud, often helps. Although I have often thought it would be a bit of a shame if I ever were to fall to my death off a rock face and my last thought were the lyrics to a Tailor Swift song…but that’s a little morbid!

Pure concentration tends to push out the fear as well – there simply isn’t enough space for the two in my head.

Valentina also says it helped her to think there was no other way than up (ironically). In a sport climb, you can always come down off the last bolt you clipped into if you get really freaked out. In trad, it’s much harder. Generally, the best way out of a scary trad climb tends to be up. That, or a call to Mountain Rescue.

That’s why it’s so exciting when you find the perfect fit between a crack in the rock face and a piece of metal, or when you finish your climb at the root of a large, stable tree, which can act as a nice super-safe anchor point (used to belay the climber that follows on the route from the top). The relief compares to nothing else!

On a separate note, I am 100% convinced learning to climb isn’t possible without good people around you. The climbing tradition and practices are passed on from generation to generation in a similar way good old fairy tales and family legends are transmitted by world of mouth.

A special thanks therefore goes out to our friend Paul, who helped tremendously with our first trad lead by being the calmest, but also most vigilant person to supervise us through the experience. And of course, simply by being there. I’ll never forget my first trad climb, and I’ll never forget who made it possible for me to feel confident enough to try it.

Paul is a qualified Southern Sandstone instructor and is a great person with whom to learn the basics of outdoor climbing on London’s nearby rocks. If you want to give this a try, don’t even think of calling anyone else to arrange a session!

You can contact Paul by sending him an e-mail on paul@on-up.co.uk or look him up on Facebook under the name Onwards Upwards.

Please also check out our new YouTube project called Vertical Souls, which I have embarked on with my climbing partner Valentina and wonderful friend Tamsin, and LIKE our Facebook page!!!

You can read more about the project here.

My new project: Vertical Souls

“Guys…why don’t we actually try and make something out of this climbing obsession?” – those were the words of my climbing partner Valentina and our just-as-obsessed friend Tamsin as we were having dinner one Sunday night after another weekend outdoors.

Suddenly, this seemed like the perfect idea. We live and breathe this sport right now, surely we can share all the things we’re learning with other people taking up the sport for the first time, or those deciding to commit to it with renewed vigour.

Luckily for us, Tamsin happens to be an ex film student and exceptionally skilled with the camera (though she will never admit it!). The concept for the videos was an easy one to come up with – though we’re still perfecting it, of course, and will be for a long time.

Our new project goes under the name “Vertical Souls” and will comprise a set of videos in which we will share our passion for climbing and everything we have learnt so far about our sport, taking you on our journey with us as we learn more ourselves.

You can expect videos on anything from training to food (especially food!!), from stretching to injury prevention, and everything in between. And to top it off, we are fully committed to wearing the most colourful sportswear we can get our hands on for these videos!

I will also keep updating you on our antics on this blog, so please keep reading, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to make sure you don’t miss any of our new videos.

You can subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

But please do be patient with us while we smooth out sound issues and anything else that isn’t quite perfect, yet. We know there is still work to be done and fully expect teething problems, but please do also give us your feedback and more ideas for future topics to cover.

Thanks for your support and please keep watching and share, share, share!!