Why do I love climbing outdoors?......... It’s a question I have been routinely asked over the years and to be honest, it’s quite a hard one to answer. There are so many reasons why I love it so much and my own reasons may be completely different to others. In much the same way that climbing itself is always subjective to the individual. However as I sit here trying to fill this page with words to answer that question, I find myself thinking about all the amazing journeys and experiences’ climbing has offered me over the years.
My first trad lead; how I overcame my nerves and the feeling of sheer jubilation after topping out on my first route. Sitting around a campfire in El Chorro - Spain, drinking cheap beer, laughing and sharing climbing stories with complete strangers. Standing on the summit of the Matterhorn, sharing a hug with my climbing partner, feeling like the highest person in the world then realising we had to get back down.
I have so many great memories of climbing and the more I think of them, the main elements, or maybe reasons why I climb outdoors starts to come to mind. Climbing for me is an emotional one, built upon a number of emotional reasons.
In no other sport I can think of, do you have to completely rely on your team or partner to save your life. Climbing builds so much trust subconsciously between us and with it comes lifelong friendships and partnerships.
Nowhere else are these bonds tested more than when we climb outdoors. Whether its bouldering, sport climbing, trad or mountaineering, everyone who climbs looks out for one another. Strangers have moved their bouldering pads underneath me and come over to give me a spot when I’ve got in an awkward position on a boulder. Friends have caught me falling off routes countless times as well as risked themselves to save me from hitting the ground. I have belayed strangers and strangers have belayed me. You should never feel scared of going climbing outdoors because when you start you become part of the outdoor climbing family and we all look out for each other.
Outdoor activities have been proven scientifically to boost self-confidence, reduce anxiety, stress and make you physically healthier. Climbing real rock, once the techniques are mastered is a beautiful experience. No two routes are the same and every move or hold is different.
It’s not only a physical challenge but also a mental one; as you generally have to think as much as physically climb yourself to the top. Climbing outside has not only kept me mentally and physically fit but also made me develop a deeper appreciation for nature. I love the places where I climb and because of that I want to protect these areas for as long as possible. If you climb outdoors this deeper connection to nature and its beauty will also develop in you. I have seen this develop in many others and if you introduce young people to the world of outdoor climbing they will learn to respect these areas early on in life. As an instructor I have taken countless groups of young people climbing from all backgrounds and have noticed on many occasions, youngsters being generally distressed when they find some litter on the ground and have picked it up. When I ask why the common answer is ‘cus it nice round ere, init?’ which makes me smile every time.
The indoor climbing scene is super social; I have met many friends through climbing at local gyms. However I would argue climbing outdoors is definitely more social than in. On my travels I have meet people from all over the world, shared amazing long trips with friends, seen body parts of some I wish I could un-see. Slept behind walls in bivi bags, spooned on ledges on big walls for warmth and shared many a climbing story, with a beer in hand at the end of a good day. With so many outdoor climbing clubs and societies throughout the country it’s not hard to find a group to head out with. To learn the basics and more, an outdoor climbing course is always a great place to start and meet others in similar situations to you. The find a club and get climbing!
Climbing indoors is a great place to meet people yes, but outdoors is definitely where you get to know people.
A THINKING GAME
I’ve touched upon this above. One of the reasons why so many of us love climbing is because of its problem solving. How do I get to the top of that? Where can I rest? Where can I clip? What sequence do I need to get through the crux?
Throw in placing gear, rope work, weather, navigation, food and kit considerations and you have a slight understanding of the extra thought outdoor climbing entails. These in themselves just add to the overall outdoor climbing experience and over time, through trial and error, you will be a cragging pro too.
Going camping for me the first time wasn’t realistically that great, I was cold, wet and got no sleep due to the poor camping mat and sleeping bag I bought. But over time I learnt and developed my own techniques of bag packing, tent arrangement, kit and generally living under canvass. I teach this analogy to people on our climbing courses as most can relate. Every time you go out you will learn something new. Outdoor climbing skill isn’t in just how hard you can pull on your fingers but everything else from walking up to the crag to being outside all day. Every element takes practice and over time you will develop your own cragging routine and to be honest, learning these mostly overlooked skills is part of the fun.
Climbing has taken me to places not many have ventured or even know exist. This wasn’t always the case. As a child my parents only ever took me on sun, sand and sea holidays to Spain. They are not adventurous people and I am considered very much the black sheep of the family. However once I started climbing more the draw of new adventures overseas was irresistible. Now being a full time climbing bum generally means you have no money, so pretty much every climbing trip has been on less than a shoe string, but that’s just part of the fun. Sleeping in vans, camping in forests with wild Boars (that’s another story), cooking on fires, sleeping rough behind walls in Bivi bags all comes from travelling and being on climbing trips. There are thousands of places to go all over the world and honestly it doesn’t take much money to enjoy them. A great starting place for your first overseas climbing adventure is a bouldering trip to Fontainebleau in France, which is located about 100km south of Paris. With its accessibility, a lifetime worth of bouldering, cheap campsites and amenities, pack those pads and be a bum in the forest for a week! I guarantee it won’t disappoint. Once you start you wont stop.
I suppose in conclusion to this, the real reason I climb outside is because it creates so many great memories. Even when it’s taken me to the type 2 fun area and maybe at the time I wasn’t enjoying it, remembering those experiences with so many like minded people, just feels good.
Why do I climb outdoors? Because its just so much fun.......