Summer's coming, so why not ditch the gym and give outdoor climbing a go? GCC climbing coach Ali Lee gives his top tips to help you transition onto real rock.
So you’ve been in the gym climbing – getting quite good! – and now you’re wanting to try the real thing: outdoor climbing. Bouldering is a great introduction to outdoor climbing as all you need is a pair of shoes, chalk bag (don’t forget the chalk) and a crash pad. Although the transition is easy, it can be a bit intimidating… And it isn’t always obvious where to start!
Here I’m going to talk through the easy first steps so you can start using your climbing skills where they were made for.
Knowing where to go is key. You don’t want to go somewhere rubbish – full of loose rock and impossible climbs – on your first trip, as this might put you off. The best way to find out? Just ask. Get down to your local wall, make some friends, find out where they’re climbing, what the grade range is like and how easy it is to get there. If you’re lucky, these new-found friends may already have a few pads… In which case you don’t need to buy anything else and can get started straight away!
Another good way of finding likeminded people is by joining a local climbing or mountaineering club. There are loads dotted around the country and they’re ideal for getting started as they’re full of experienced people looking to share their love for climbing. As always when meeting new people, don’t take their word for gospel: they may not know quite as much as they say they do. Take everything with a pinch of salt and always ask yourself if what you’re doing makes sense.
My last tip to find climbing areas is to use UKClimbing’s crag finder map. Here you can select the type of climbing you’re looking for, where you are, and how far you are willing to travel. The problem with this is that it has every small crag in the UK and I’ve arrived at the odd crag expecting to have a great day and found it to be of little quality.
The main difference between climbing indoors is suddenly the holds aren’t bright pink and in your face! You have to find the holds, work out the best way to do moves (the beta), and figure out where you’re going to land so you can place the pad in the best location.
Another thing you’ll start to notice is that the climbs don’t quite climb the same way as they do indoors. Although a lot of your indoor strength is transferable to the rock, you’ll have to learn a different style to be able to climb at your limit. Quite often, this varies from crag to crag. Since these routes haven’t been set by a route setter the moves can be awkward, not make sense and be very hard for the grade. A prime example of this is Toto at Dumbarton (the hardest f6a in the world!)
The important thing here is to not be put off when you’re not climbing as hard as you normally do. Take a few falls, try some strange stuff and eventually you’ll start crushing!
As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of bouldering is you need very little gear. The bare essentials are: a pair of shoes (or multiple if you want to look pro), a chalk bag, and a pad. When buying your first pad I would recommend not skimping and getting something that is nice and big, firm, and easy to carry. Getting a firm pad may seem like the opposite of what you’re wanting but once you’ve fallen from 4m up and landed on your hard pad – instead of going straight through a soft pad – and get straight back up again, you’ll be thankful.
Getting a pad that’s easy to carry may not be vital but it’s useful. Sometimes boulders aren’t simple to get to and may require a bit of hiking beforehand. By getting a pad that’s easy to carry you’ll make this process a lot easier and more enjoyable.
You’ve had your first taste of outdoor bouldering, managed to get that problem you’ve been trying all summer and finally finished all the easy climbs at your local crag… Tick! Well, not quite. The best thing about climbing is that there’s always something else you can do. If bouldering was right up your street then there’s loads of place you can travel to: the magical forest of Fontainebleau, the Swish Alps retreat of Magic Wood… the list just goes on. If you’re Scottish-based I’d recommend a trip down to Dumbarton, my local crag.
If you’d like to try something different there’s always sport climbing, or the UK’s favourite, trad climbing. There really is something for everyone – just get out there and find what you prefer!