Although climbing seems, at times, like the summits of mountains, to be shrouded in mystique, more and more people are becoming interested in the sport, be it indoors or outdoors.
I started climbing in the mid-1960s and went by bus from Penrith to Keswick. The sport was simpler and equipment less elaborate. I packed a rope, a few slings, some newly developed nuts (for belays) called MOAC’s, home-made drilled-out nuts, and usually headed for Shepherds Crag. How times have changed! Now, most people start at a climbing wall and may never progress onto ‘real rock’.
Rock climbing originated on crags with climbers later safeguarding themselves with slings attached to climbing ropes with ‘snaplinks’ (carabiners) through which the ropes ran. If a climber slipped or fell then the other climber (or belayer) would hold them on the rope. In due course nuts (developed from nuts you would have found in your toolbox), pitons and increasingly sophisticated gadgets such as ‘Friends’ were inserted into cracks to help safeguard the way. Sometimes slings were attached to pitons, but most climbers preferred to climb routes without hammering these into rock faces.
With time equipment and clothing improved and routes became harder and more challenging. In the 1970s the use of bolts, to safeguard climbers, evolved, particularly in France and on the continent. This is called “Sports” climbing and developed alongside traditional (Trad) climbing with self-placed protection.
Many think climbing is all muscles and sheer strength, but this is not usually the case. Balance and movement are very important and it is crucial to use one’s feet. When starting, the temptation is to grab for handholds and forget about feet, but footholds are vital to help with ‘balance’. Climbers should be looking at their feet at least 60% of the time. It is rather like 3D chess!
A pure form of climbing is ‘bouldering’, following short routes on boulders without ropes, and with a mat to cushion any falls. This concentrates on movement and helps develop style. There are many bouldering venues around the area. Most are short challenges, whilst others are called ‘highball’, and involve climbing high, giving a huge buzz of excitement. Eden Rock, run by bouldering superstar Dan Varian, is based in Carlisle and attracts climbers of all ages and abilities.
Rock climbing is done on crags as low as 10 metres, but can extend up 1,000 metres or more. Since the late 1950s climbing walls have developed. A very early wall was in the gym at the newly opened Ullswater School in Penrith. Since then, they have grown enormously in height, complexity and fun! New and stronger materials are used and holds are changed to create different routes. Locally, there is the Eden Climbing Wall at Penrith Leisure Centre (opened in 1995) as well as walls in Kendal, Keswick and Appleby. Kong adventure in Keswick even has an ice wall. These have transformed interest in climbing, with a ‘usually’ warm and dry location, safeguarded by bolts to give a friendly atmosphere. Winter darkness and rain do not stop play!
Whilst, for many this is ‘climbing’, climbing walls are a far cry from rock climbing on outcrops in Eden, Lakeland valley crags such as Shepherds Crag in Borrowdale, or the mountain crags of Scafell, Pillar Rock, Gimmer Crag and Dow Crag.
There is a new world waiting outside, alongside which there is a need to transition from climbing walls to crags. It is well worth getting instruction, for which one good way is to join a local climbing club. In the Penrith area there is the Eden Valley Mountaineering Club (www.evmc.co.uk) and the Carlisle Mountaineering Club (www.carlislemc.co.uk). I hope to see you out on the crags!