‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I’m going to fall,’ I trembled as my hands gripped onto the rough rock surface with all my might.
I was panic-stricken.
All I could think about was my fatigued arms failing me and tumbling off the boulder.
Fear consumed me, I began to shake more and more. I didn’t know what to do. The bottom seemed a long way off and while the top was just one move away, I couldn’t for the life of me work out a way to get there. I somehow needed to pull myself up but what would happen if I slipped?
My big toes were balanced precariously on tiny indents on the rock’s face. Meanwhile, my arms were hugging round a projection of rock above me. Neither my hands nor my feet felt secure.
The thought of falling plagued me.
‘You can make it,’ Jonathan called up reassuringly. ‘But if you want to come down you can, you are not that high, lower your right leg and climb down,’ he added.
‘I can’t I’m stuck,’ I quivered as I clasped the rock tightly.
Clenching my arms harder into the rock, I forced myself to place my right foot in a small crack below me. From there I lowered my shaking arms to pieces of rock that jutted out and jumped back feet first onto the soft mat.
I immediately toppled onto my belly to lay down. My heart pounded against my chest. I took in a deep breath and tried to steady myself.
I was beyond relieved to be on the ground again. My hand was bleeding from where I had gripped with all my might to the sand paper-like rock-face.
‘You weren’t that high, and look… the mats and I am here if you fall,’ my brother explained to calm my nerves. ‘It’s an irrational fear, you won’t hurt yourself, you just need to stay calm and move slowly,’ he said trying to help.
‘I just panicked, it felt so high up and what if I landed awkwardly?’ I replied still trying to catch my breath.
Looking up at the boulder I could see now that it was one I could have done in an indoor gym. But being outside made it so much scarier. Maybe he was right. It wasn’t super high.
I figured the best thing to do would be to try again before my fear overwhelmed me and prohibited me from climbing ever again.
This time I tried an easier route – one that took me to the same height but offered more rock formations to hold onto and let my feet get a hold.
‘Take your time… no rush,’ Jonathan instructed, as I slowly mounted the slab.
This one I conquered and felt much better for doing so. As my confidence grew, I was able to try different routes.
One particularly hard route did actually cause me to fall off, and I landed softly on the mat. I did scrape my knee on the way down but the fall helped me to realise that I wasn’t actually that high up and that falling wasn’t the end of the world. As long as you land carefully.
The panic never completed subdued but I became better at managing it. In a way I hope I always do maintain some fear as this keeps me climbing safely and not pushing beyond my strength.
Bouldering when done carefully is a fun and safe sport that gives you a huge sense of achievement.
We were tackling bouldering routes in Robin Hoods Stride in the Peak District. It was a busy spot with other climbers out and about. Jonathan helped a solo climber for a bit who was tackling some very hard routes alone.
It isn’t advisable to climb alone as you ideally want to have a spotter (someone on the ground who will direct you to the mats if you fall or to move the mats for you into the right position as you climb).
Top tips for bouldering outdoors:
Make sure to have the following essential climbing gear:
- Bouldering mats (x2). These are expensive starting from £150 to well over £400. I’m lucky as my brother is a climbing nerd so has these already. If you are not as fortunate they can be rented from climbing gyms or borrowed from friends or bought second-hand.
- Climbing shoes – these can be bought online, in outdoor shops or climbing gyms, starting at around £30/£40 for a second-hand pair to well over £500. I bought mine in a climbing gym sale for around £40/£50. I have made this money back as beforehand I was paying at least £3.50 to hire the shoes each time I climbed. You just need to climb at least 15 times to break even.
- Chalk bag – your hands will get sweaty and slippery. It is important to cover your hands in chalk when climbing to help you grip onto the rock surfaces. Chalk can be bought for less than £5.
- Guide book (we used Peak Bouldering by Adrian Berry and Alan James). This was borrowed from a friend. Otherwise, this can be bought second-hand online. Alternatively, you can download an app on your phone called Rock Fax which will cost you £4 per month or £36 for the year. It gives you access to ‘50,000 routes, 850 crags, high detail topos, overviews and maps, covering major crags throughout the UK and Europe’. It is useful to have a guide as they tell you where the climbs are located and their level of difficulty.
- Climbing tape – to cover any blisters or scrapes on your hands. This will help protect them from becoming worse. Can be bought for under £5
While climbing gear is expensive, it is necessary and if you can borrow kit your climb could work out to be almost free! Plus climbing outside you have the added benefit of fresh air and beautiful scenery which you don’t get in the climbing gyms.
Bring lots of water and snacks to keep your energy levels up
We brought cereal bars, fruit, bagels and 2 litres of water.
Pack what you would for a hike
E.g. sun-cream, sun hats, waterproofs and a compass!
Don’t get disheartened
Climbing outside is extremely hard. It is more difficult that climbing inside. You use different skills and have to think more carefully about how you will get to the top. Routes are called problems for a reason. Don’t get disheartened. Keep trying and you will get there. The reward of getting to the top and looking out across the scenery is well worth it.
Stay within your limits
There is no need to push yourself beyond your capability. Take it easy and enjoy yourself. I found it very hard to know if I was capable of reaching the top or not. I tended to think I couldn’t, I would freak out and then come back down. I found it hard to get the balance between pushing myself to the top and staying comfortably safe. Probably at times I could have reached the top within my limit but I was too scared. Over time this is something that I hope to learn.
Has anyone else been bouldering and have any top tips?
It would be greatly appreciated.