I’m a person who tends to enjoy the security of walking on solid ground and not having to use my hands to get from point A to point B.
So when a friend who does indoor rock climbing (or bouldering to give this particular form its proper name) began asking me to come along and give it a go, I initially declined.
But he was nothing if not persistent, and I eventually gave in. Even then, I thought it would be something I’d have to endure for an hour or so then never have to do it again. But how wrong I was…
To my surprise, I actually found myself having fun. Yes, it was difficult and physically demanding but, at the same time, also very enjoyable.
No strings attached
The venue for my introduction to the sport was The Climbing Hangar in Chelsea.
As a first-timer, I had to fill in a waiver form and watch a mini-tutorial video. After that it was just a matter of putting on some special climbing shoes and we were on our way.
The Climbing Hangar has three levels, each filled with colourful grip rocks. In the middle of one is a climbing column which is a good change of pace after scaling the many strangely-shaped walls.
Before arriving, I’d envisaged being festooned with a variety of ropes, clips and harnesses in order to make our way up these obstacles.
But that turned out to be not the case as your feet are never higher than three metres off the ground. In addition, the floors are padded so it’s all perfectly safe.
Also, rather than climbing upwards, we traversed sideways along the walls, with the main challenge being to figure out where to put your hands and feet next in order to get from one end to the other.
Each route has a different colour indicating how difficult it is. Every few weeks the routes and colours will change, so regular visitors face fresh challenges.
Starting off at beginners’ level, I grabbed the closest rock and proceeded to move to my left-hand side.
My friend was watching me while cracking jokes such as “Don’t look down!” (I was half a metre off the ground) and “You’re an absolute rock star!” which didn’t help, but I spent at least two minutes without touching the ground on my first try alone.
After that my confidence grew and I began to genuinely enjoy myself. We moved onto the harder walls, a few of which I conquered.
Easily, the most fun part was when the grip rocks were so far apart, the only way to grab onto the next rock was by jumping and trying to catch it. After my third attempt I caught it but didn’t grip properly and fell.
Two more tries later, I got it right. The leap made me feel like superhero… well, a semi-super hero.
Another of my misconceptions was that climbing is all about upper-body strength, but there is so much more to it than just that.
For example, it’s important to remember that whenever you can, you have to push with your legs rather than pull with your arms. I suppose it’s basic common sense as legs are a lot stronger than arms, and it’s all about spreading the energy used across the whole body.
The amount of aching I experienced the next day told me that I got a really good workout in my first experience of bouldering.
I have to admit I discovered a lot of muscles I never knew even existed through this pain, but that’s fantastic because I would never have exercised them at the gym.
Where and how much
The Climbing Hangar is only one of climbing centres in London. Just to name a few, there’s also Vauxwall in Vauxhall, the Castle Climbing Centre and Geckos Climbing for Kids which are both in Stoke Newington and Westway Climbing in White City.
The costs for one session usually range between £7-£10 depending on the centre and the time you go.
There are also membership packages. It’s well worth the price and I recommend it to anyone of any age and ability.
If you need any more incentive to try rock climbing, then a lot of these places offer taster sessions which are cheaper than standard prices.