On The Rocks
It may look daunting, but climbing – which becomes an Olympic sport in Tokyo next year – has benefits far beyond the physical and, once mastered, can turn you into a high-flying globetrotter.
At one extreme it’s tackling the world’s tallest peaks in feats of stamina and daring; at the other it’s carefully supervised fun for adventurous young pretenders within a shopping mall. Climbing, though, comes with a range of benefits beyond the scaling of a vertical surface.
“Climbing is fantastic for many things, not just general fitness. It works the whole body and is essentially a weight-bearing exercise so is great for improving general strength. It also works your flexibility and improves co-ordination and balance,” says Chris Searle, managing director of Chimera Climbing, a bouldering centre in Tunbridge Wells.
“On top of that, climbing gives your brain a workout as well because you have to suss out the best way to navigate a particular route and come up with solutions when you can’t do a particular move.
“A bouldering centre like ours means climbing shorter walls with no ropes – but there is soft matting underfoot to give a cushioned landing! It is, therefore, a great way to get into the sport as it’s very easy. You don’t need a partner or any expensive gear, just a pair of shoes. And you can come alone or with friends.”
In bouldering, the routes are all colour-coded and go all the way from beginner through to advanced, ensuring there is something for everyone. The idea is to stick to one colour and work your way up through the grades as you improve. Bouldering is also a key route into climbing at a more advanced and challenging level, as Chris explains: “Of course, if you want to improve and learn some basic technique, you can book lessons with our qualified instructors who are really good at tailoring lessons to individual strengths and weaknesses. All our instructors climb outside regularly and are really knowledgeable.”
“We’re lucky to be surrounded by sandstone rocks here in Tunbridge Wells and we offer outdoors courses and lessons for anyone wanting to try climbing on real rock. The skills and techniques learned inside are all transferable and will set anyone up in good stead when they choose to go the next level,” adds Chris, who is also keen to promote the widespread appeal of the sport.
“Climbing is very accessible and, here at Chimera, you can just turn up – there’s no need to book, unless you want a lesson. Anyone from age five, as long as they’re supervised by an adult, can come along and give it a go. Children often climb far better than grown-ups anyway as they’ve no fear and are very natural on the wall.”
Chimera also recommends a lesson outside before going it alone, for two reasons – it affords the opportunity to learn the proper way to set up a rope, and it won’t cause any unnecessary further erosion to delicate sandstone rock. This is something close to the facility’s ethos and it donates a portion of its profits to the Steve Durkin Sandstone Trust (sdst.org.uk) to preserve the rock for future generations to enjoy.
“Bouldering as a sport is growing and growing and, with climbing becoming an Olympic sport next year in Tokyo, we are expecting a huge boom in popularity. We’re opening a second centre in Canterbury soon to enable people in that area to have access to their own bouldering facility,” says Chris.
“Interested beginners should just come and have a go. Climbing is more than a sport – it’s a fantastic community and as such, everyone helps everyone else.”
Scaling new heights
From Scotland to South Africa, Australia to Argentina and Chile to Thailand, climbing and travel go together like a crampon and a cliff face. Rock & Sun is one of the world’s leading tour operators offering climbing and bouldering holidays across Europe as well as in locations such as Morocco and South East Asia. Desirée Verbeek, who owns and operates the company with Trevor Massiah, says Spain’s Costa Blanca is not only its most popular year-round destination, it’s also perfect for those starting out.
“Our holidays on the Costa Blanca cater for complete beginners as well the very experienced climbers for whom we offer performance coaching courses at three levels depending on climbing grade and previous experience. Over the course of a long weekend or a week-long holiday our instructors introduce people to all the key skills to acquire the technique to climb safely and with confidence,” explains Desirée, adding that southern Thailand, Fontainebleau in France and the Greek island of Kalymnos are the company’s other most popular destinations.
What, though, of the nervous novice who’s maybe had their eye on climbing but never yet taken the plunge? “We run introductory weekends in the UK and these are perfect for those wanting their first outdoor climbing experience. Our women-only holidays run by female instructors are growing in demand and we have another coming up on the Costa Blanca in October.
“The key thing with all our holidays is that they equip people with skills taught by experts and afford them the confidence, should they choose, to take their climbing to another level – literally.”
• Visit rockandsun.com
One of the great things about climbing is that it’s a pastime that really can take you all over the world. Here are just a few global top spots:
• Patagonia & San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
• Pembrokeshire, Wales
• Cairngorms and Orkney Islands, Scotland
• Costa Blanca and Albarracin, Spain
• Kalymnos, Greece
• Rocklands, South Africa
• Southern Thailand
• Joshua Tree National Park, California
• Dolomites, Italy
• Banff and Jasper, Canada
Image Patagonia © Image licensed by Ingram Image / Galyna Andrushko