Outdoor Instructor Robin Jeffery begins this introductory series with taking a look at the foundations of a good climbing day, in How to Climb Outdoors – better.
- Choose your climbing venue with a warm fluffy feel, leave the big, epic experiences for when you have some climbing mileage under your belt. This means that small crags are better than mountain cliffs and inland crags are definitely preferable to sea cliffs. The epic experience of survival is always better being relived in the pub.
- Choose a crag that is either close to you or go to an area for a weekend. The wisdom of this will be borne out when you are half way up your first climb and your ability to conduct the emotional plate spinning of managing your safety, your fear and your ambition is directly related to what time you got up that morning. It will again become crushingly apparent on the motor way on the way home that a day being energetic in the outdoors is really tiring.
- Having your own harness and rock shoes is not enough for outdoor rock climbing in the UK as there won’t be ropes set up for you and unless you head to a sport climbing crag there won’t be bolts to clip. This means that you will have to set your own ropes up and place your own gear. Don’t make it up! The glory of making it up your first outdoor climb is greatly diminished by the sound of your rope set up collapsing as you lean back on it. Head out with climbers who know what they are doing and get them to teach you or hire an instructor.
- Another essential component of a good day out is the guide that you buy. If chosen well then then a good guide will clearly describe not only the climbs but also how to get there, where to shop and eat, where to sleep and hopefully a good coffee shop bolt hole if it rains. Getting hold of one is easy enough, all quality Outdoor shops online and on the high street will have a book case or its virtual equivalent, stuffed with guides. The choice of guide is limited but ample for a UK climber’s needs.
- Gone are the dark days of attempting to piece together an esoteric description with an equally esoteric black and white drawing. Nowadays most guides come equipped with full colour photos of the crag with the climbs clearly marked out and described. Rockfax led the way and still produce some the clearest and concise guides available. Although they do tend to be England and Wales centric so you will have to search out the comprehensive but text heavy Scottish Mountaineering Club guides or Gary Latter’s Rockfax esque North and South Scotland guides for north of the border.
- Beware though, a guide is not a DIY manual. It will give you just enough to navigate to and up a climb There are two types of guide out there; the encyclopaedic and the ala carte. Most are encyclopaedic and give every climb going from overgrown, two meter offwidth (if you don’t know what an offwidth is then I suggest you try one, if nothing else it will be a rite of passage) to the soaring lines beloved of glossy climbing magazines. If you are new to an area then the al carte can be of use, (the excellent Ground Up publication of North Wales Rock springs to mind), but mostly I have found that buying the encyclopaedic variety is best as they generally cover a broad region, (Rockfax’s Eastern Grit for example covers nineteen different climbing locations in the Peak District), and it allows you repeated visits over many years as your grade improves.
- As climbing as become more popular, so have the resources available to the aspiring climber become more available. Ukclimbing.com offers a log book to augment its news and articles, which is essentially a free guide. However it can be patchy in places especially for some of the more out of the way areas and the descriptions are straight out of the guide books. But what it really delivers on is in photos. (You can also find photos of climbs on amateur and professional sites if you spend a bit of time looking). These photos can help inspire you to greatness and to fire up psyche levels on cold wet Sunday evenings. They are also handy for making sure what you do climb is what you want to climb, (thus minimising the potential for an epic wobble on the adjacent E8), and giving you hints about gear placements and sequences whilst retaining the adventure that we are all looking for.