Category: Climbing

5 of the Best Mountain Challenges in the UK

Best mountain challenges in UK

The Cuillin Ridge – one of the UK’s toughest mountain challenges

If the grey days and dark nights are draining your motivation for getting outside, then you need a challenge! While we may not have the towering snow-capped peaks of the Alps, the UK has a surprising range of mountain challenges for everyone from casual weekend walkers to skilled mountaineers and fleet-of-foot fell runners.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but if you’re after for some inspiration or itching for a new challenge, why not book in one of the UK’s best mountain challenges for 2018…

Yorkshire Three Peaks

The route linking the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks‘ of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough is an ideal first mountain challenge for fit walkers. The route starts and ends in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and is 24 miles with 1,585m of ascent. To complete the ‘challenge’ you need to walk it in under 12 hours.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks is very popular with charity groups and can get busy in the summer, so a good-weather day out of season is your best bet for avoiding the crowds in the car parks as well as on the hills. There are no technical difficulties, but it’s a long day and if the weather’s bad, you’ll need to be confident navigating in low visibility.

The Welsh 3000s

If you want to step up from the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Welsh 3000s, also known as the “14 Peaks” will challenge the fittest hill walker. The official challenge requires an ascent of the 15 (yes, 15 not 14…) Welsh peaks over 3,000ft in 24 hours, without using any form of transport.

The traditional route starts on the summit of Snowdon (sometimes with a bivvy) and finishes on Foel-fras. It’s around 24 miles long but the approach walk and final descent take the total up to 30 miles. There aren’t many technical challenges, but you’ll need to be comfortable with the scrambling on Crib Goch and Tryfan and a very long day in the hills.

The Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham is to fell runners what the Cuillin Ridge is to mountaineers. The 66-mile circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the Lake District includes 8,200m of ascent and, to officially complete the Bob Graham Round, the circuit has to be done in 24 hours.

For many fell runners, completing the Bob Graham is a lifetime achievement requiring years of preparation. Only around 1 in 3 attempts are successful and most take place in the summer, to make best use of daylight. I’ve spent long days in the Lakes hiking just a handful of the 42 peaks and I actually struggle to comprehend HOW people can be fit enough to complete the challenge within the 24-hour time limit.

For those who’ve completed the Bob Graham Round, more challenges lie ahead in the Welsh and Scottish equivalents: the Paddy Buckley Round and the Ramsay Round.

The Cuillin Ridge

The Cuillin Ridge is the most prized of all British ridge climbs and arguably one of the best mountaineering challenges in Europe. It requires stamina, excellent navigation skills and the ability to move quickly and safely on complex terrain.

The ridge itself is 12km, but including the walk in and walk out you’re looking at a 25km route with 4,000m of ascent and descent. Although none of the climbing is harder than ‘Very Difficult’, there are large sections of exposed scrambling and easier climbing and to have any chance of success at the traverse, you’ll need to be comfortable soloing most of the ridge.

If you’re super fit then it’s possible to do the Cuillin Ridge in a day but many parties take two days and bivvy overnight, either at the start of the ridge or part-way along. On many British ridge climbs, route-finding is fairly straightforward — you just keep to the crest of the ridge. On my one excursion into the Cuillin (to date) I was surprised at the level of technical route finding required. For this reason, if you’re looking to attempt the ridge it’s worth reccying different sections of the route in advance.

The Munros

This one may take you more than a year! The record for completing all 282 Scottish mountains over 3,000ft is an impressive 39 days and 9 hours (set by Stephen Pike in 2010) and the women’s record of 77 days was set in 2017 by Lisa and Libby from Beauties and the Bog. For most people, bagging all the Munros is a lifetime achievement, but if you have a lot of time on your hands or easy access to the Scottish Highlands, it’s possible to tick them all in a year.

While most Munros aren’t technical climbs (only one — the Inaccessible Pinnacle — involves a graded rock climb), many involve long days in the remotest parts of the UK and mountain skills are a must. Find out more about the Munros in our guide to Scotland’s ultimate ticklist.

5 Tips To Improve Your Climbing Grade

Crag with climbers on hard routes

Watching climbers who are better than you can help improve your grade

When you first start climbing, you may progress rapidly through the grades. But whether you’re climbing indoors or outside, at some point you’re going to hit a plateau. If you want to make it to the next level, here are five tips to improve your climbing grade.

Get the Mileage In

As with anything, the more you do of something, the better you’ll get. This is particularly true with trad climbing. If I haven’t trad climbed for a while it takes me twice as long to pick the right piece of gear and I tend to be more cautious and place more gear than necessary. The slicker your gear placements, the more energy you save and the harder you’ll be able to climb.

Train Regularly

It’s sometimes said that climbing is the best training for climbing. This is partially true, but whatever level you’re climbing at, you should see an improvement in your climbing grade with a structured training programme. This needs to be specific to the level you’re climbing at; if you’re a beginner then jumping straight onto a fingerboard is a recipe for injured fingers!

Focus on Footwork

One of the key signs of a beginner climbing at the wall is shoddy footwork. It’s tempting to think you just need to get stronger to climb harder, but learning good technique is just as important as strength. By focusing on improving your footwork, not only will you be able to climb harder, you will become a better climber. Your strength may ebb and flow, but good footwork will stay with you for a lifetime.

If you find yourself kicking or scraping the wall when you climb, practice these seven drills to improve your footwork.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail (or Fall)

I’d hazard a guess that the fear of falling is one of the most common things that stops people climbing to their full potential. The times I have climbed my hardest routes on both trad and sport are when I have been able to control my fear to a certain extent. To put it bluntly, if you’re terrified of falling off, you won’t push yourself to your physical limit. This means you won’t get as strong as you could do or climb the grades you’re capable of climbing.

Fear of failure also holds us back. Many people have a mental barrier in their heads around a certain grade. For example, they may be super confident climbing VS, but the mention of an HVS is enough to send them into shakes halfway up the route. You can often climb a lot harder than you think you can. Though please don’t take that as an invitation to jump on an E7 when you’re only climbing VS! Part of becoming an experienced climber is knowing when it’s safe to fall, and when it isn’t.

Learn From Climbers Who Are Better Than You

Perhaps the best tip to improve your climbing grade is to climb with people who are better than you. Seconding harder routes allows you to push your body to the limit without having to worry about placing gear or falling off. But don’t just hold your partner’s rope – watch how they climb. Look at what holds they use, how they position their body and how they rest on the route. Then, try and emulate this when you climb.

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to get out with better climbers, you can still watch how they climb and learn from it. Bouldering walls are great for this. If you’re struggling to figure out a particular problem, take a break and watch how other people climb it. Do they climb it differently depending on their size and strength? Experienced climbers will often know the best sequence for a problem just by looking at it. Once you’re fully rested, try climbing it their way and you may be surprised how much easier you find it.

Losing Motivation (and How to Find It Again)

Climbing-Motivation

Happy climbing in motivated times

Motivation has always been a funny thing for me. I like to think I’m quite a motivated person, but I also take setbacks hard. Like most people, I sometimes feel tempted to quit when things aren’t going quite the way I want them to.

Take rock climbing. It’s been a huge part of my life for the past fifteen years. I would never go so far as to say there is one sport I’d choose over all others, but if I had to pick, climbing would be a strong contender. It’s not just the physical aspect of it – having the strength and flexibility to pull, push and twist your way up a rock face – but the mental aspect. Climbing is a three-dimensional puzzle. You have to figure out what sequence of moves and holds will unlock the key to the route. And the really fun part? The puzzle is different for every person.

For most of the past ten years, I’ve focused on sport climbing, with some bouldering thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, I love trad, but for me, discovering sport climbing and redpointing* allowed me to push myself harder than I thought possible. Climbing 7a went from an impossibility to a frequent occurrence. 7b fell, then 7b+, and 7c was nearly in my grasp. Perhaps, I thought, with a bit more focused training, I could even climb 8a – a lifetime goal I’ve never been brave enough to admit to having.

Ironically enough, the peak of my climbing ability occurred when I lived in London – about the furthest place in the UK from any decent climbing. But in my final year of living in London, my climbing started to wane. I put it down to maintaining a long-distance relationship, along with a busy job and fitting in climbing around life. My increasing nervousness about leading down to a big (but safe) fall I’d taken.

When I moved up to Yorkshire eighteen months ago, I thought this would be the start of a new era. Time to get strong again, and crags practically on the doorstep. No excuses. But things didn’t quite turn out like that. Despite getting down to the wall more and climbing outside, I was getting weaker, not stronger.

Fine, I thought. I’ve been slack and need to get back on the training bandwagon. And I’ve been trying to do this, really I have. But despite my mental will to pull hard, my body didn’t respond. The power and finger strength that I’d always relied on had gone. I could no longer do even a single pull up, or a proper press up. And it seemed as if the more I tried, the weaker I got.

This week we are back down on Portland, my main weekend haunt from my London climbing years. Back at the Cuttings, I looked idly up at Hall of Mirrors – the 7c that I was so close to getting a few years ago. I was feeling positive, my fingers tingling in anticipation of getting back on the Portland rock I know and love; of warming up on routes I feel comfortable on. Getting my lead head sorted, and perhaps getting a quick 7a tick or two.

I was quickly brought back down to earth. I puffed my way up the 6b warm-up, tried to persuade myself that the move above the bolt would be totally fine (you’ve done it before) and finally slumped down in defeat. My optimism went right out the metaphorical window. And when I finally did get on my ‘project’ for the week, progress was essentially non-existent. I could see what I had to do, even picture the moves in my mind, but I just couldn’t get my body to actually do them. I walked away, frustrated and downcast.

Getting Back On the Horse

I remember one of the first lessons I was taught when I started horse-riding as a kid. If you fall off, get up and get back on that horse. I took my fair share of tumbles during my riding years and quite often the last thing I wanted to do after falling off was to get back on the horse which I knew was prancing round ready to gallop off and dump me again. But even so, I got back in the saddle.

The same is true if you fall out of a sport for a while. This may be because of injury, a busy period at work, or because you fell in love with another sport for a time. It may be for good, happy reasons: having a child, or falling in love with someone who loves you, but not your sport. When you do come back to training again, it can be tough to get going, to keep motivated when you know you should be doing better than this.

Getting back on the horse is not easy. It requires willpower, toughness and a willingness to fail. So why do it? Why not just move on and accept that that part of your life – the part where you were a good, strong climber – is over.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because there is still part of you that wants to believe that it doesn’t have to be over. The part of you that remembers that glorious feeling when every piece of the puzzle falls into place as you climb higher and higher, dancing up the rock face; grasping every challenge that faces you and conquering it. The feeling of finally clipping the chains on your project, having devoted countless hours to figuring out the precise moves and body positions you needed to climb it, and riding the wave of highs and lows that is redpointing. It’s the child in you that believes you can do anything, if you want it enough. Listen to that child. Nurture that child.

Finding Your Motivation

Losing motivation is easy. Finding it again is a journey. And the first thing to realise is that this won’t happen overnight. (Unless you are one of those super naturally fit people who can go from couch to Ironman in four weeks, in which case you probably aren’t reading this article.)

Step 1: Start with baby steps

Remember what you love about your sport and focus on that. If that means going backwards for a while, so be it. For example, I have always struggled with my leading head, and my lack of fitness made this even worse, to the point that I wasn’t even pushing myself on climbs or getting tired because I was too scared of getting pumped. Crazy, huh?

So when we took a few days off to go out to Spain earlier this year, my main goal wasn’t to climb a particular route or a particular grade, it was to enjoy myself. To learn to love climbing again. I gave permission to myself to only lead what I wanted to lead. And if that meant spending the whole trip seconding easy routes, so be it.

And I did spend most of the time seconding routes. But you know what? I loved it. My body slowly remembered how to move on rock. The subtleties of body position and the flow of climbing. I got pumped out of my mind on long 6a+ routes that a few years ago, I’d have been warming up on. But I didn’t mind. Much. Ok there was a part of me that was frustrated at my lack of progress, but a bigger part of me was whooping inside at rediscovering just how FUN climbing is.

Step 2: Set small goals

Goals are important tools for motivation. But remember, these don’t have to be end goals, they can be process goals. To start with, focus your goals on your training. Set yourself a realistic training programme (based on the current ‘you’, not the former ‘you’) and create small, incremental goals. If you’re struggling for motivation, then just keep going and trust the process.

Step 3: Explore new areas

Going back to old haunts and the sites of your top achievements is not a good idea right now. You’ll only end up comparing your current performance to your past performances and wind up feeling disheartened. (As per my example above.)

Instead, use this opportunity to explore new places. Climb the classic routes you used to overlook as being ‘too easy’. Bike or ski down the green and blue trails, rather than scaring yourself on the black runs. Instead of running your usual circuits from your front door, venture further afield to a new park, forest or hill. Enjoy the experience and focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

A Final Word

It won’t happen overnight, or even in a few weeks or months. But little by little, your strength and confidence will return. Or you may discover that your goals and how you measure success in your sport has changed during your journey. That what you want to achieve is something quite different to what you originally thought.

Motivation is not a finite resource. There is plenty of it – you just need to capture and hold on to it. Plug the hole in your motivation reservoir and figure out how to fill it up again. And if in doubt, listen to your inner child; he, or she, is probably right.

Have you been struggling with motivation recently? Share what tips and tricks you have for pulling through in the comments below or with me on Twitter. Thanks to Stuart Stronach for the awesome photo – there aren’t many good ones of me climbing!

*Redpointing is climbing a route, cleanly in one go after practising some or all of the moves.

How to Kit Yourself Out for Climbing for Under £100

climbing-kit-100-quid

You don’t need much gear to start climbing and if you’re cunning with your shopping you could bag everything you need for £100

Having invested thousands of pounds in climbing kit over the years, I can attest to the fact that it can be an expensive sport. But if you’re just starting out, it doesn’t need to be. In fact, it’s quite possible to buy the basic kit you need for climbing for under £100. Don’t believe me? Here’s how.

Basic rock climbing equipment

If you’re new to climbing, it’s likely that you’ll mostly be climbing at your local wall. Most walls will have equipment you can hire to use in the centre, but if you’re serious about climbing, the first pieces of kit you’ll need are shoes, a chalk-bag and chalk.

Climbing shoes

There’s this whole myth that climbing shoes should be painfully tight, so you can really stay in touch with the rock. Y’know. Man. Let me set one thing straight: if your climbing shoes are too tight they will hurt and that will stop you enjoying your climbing (unless you have some kind of sadomasacistic climbing thing going on). However, it’s also true that shoes do stretch and mould themselves to your feet. This is more likely with leather shoes than synthetic, and not at all likely if your climbing shoes live in the cupboard because they are just too painful to put on.

My best tip for choosing your first pair of climbing shoes? Pick something that’s snug but comfortable. Yes, they will be tighter than your sloppy trainers, but you should be able to put them on and stand on small holds without descending into whimpers of pain. Check they don’t rub at the back or dig into your heel and that they’re wide or narrow enough to accommodate your foot snugly.

Also bear in mind that the really cool looking, down-toed shoes such as the La Sportiva Futuras (which are indeed a thing of beauty) are designed with experienced climbers in mind. Climbers whose feet have been accustomed, through many years of wearing pointy shoes, to point downwards. Your feet have probably not reached this stage. They also tend to have thinner rubber, ‘cos high-level climbers have pretty good footwork (allegedly) and can dab their foot on the right hold first time. If you choose (against the friendly shop assistant’s advice) to go with a pair of performance shoes, you’re going to start off a very expensive shoe habit.

As you progress in your climbing career, you’ll get to know what style and brand of shoe suits your foot best. And let me tell you this; there’s nothing like the satisfaction of a perfect-fitting climbing shoe. Ahhhh.

Top picks:

Chalk bag and chalk

Old-skool climbers may tell you that chalk is completely unnecessary and back in t’ day, they just use to spit on t’ hands and get on with it. Personally, I think ninety-nine percent of climbers use it for a reason. It helps dry your hands out and prevents your sweaty fingers slipping off sweaty holds.

It’s pretty easy to get hold of a cheap chalk bag in any shop sale, or you can buy a full-price one for about a tenner. Or if your budget’s really stretched, why not get creative and make your own? A piece of accessory cord is a good belt substitute and a chalk ball will only set you back a couple of quid.

Top picks:

Harness and belay device

Though you could quite happily spend a lifetime bouldering, if you want to progress to roped climbing you’ll want to invest in a harness. Harnesses range from super lightweight Alpine-style harnesses to well-padded styles with plenty of gear loops. I’d definitely advise you to try before you buy – most outdoor shops will have a rope somewhere for you to dangle from.

If you’re looking online, don’t make the mistake of just going for the cheapest option. Although Alpine-style harnesses tend to sit at the lower end of the price spectrum, this is for a reason. They’re designed to be worn over several layers of clothing when mountaineering. (Note: hanging on a rope is considered rather bad form in mountaineering.) With the lack of padding, if you’re dangling on a rope for any length of time, it’s likely to be an uncomfortable experience.

When it comes to belay devices you’ll be looking at either an assisted braking device, such as the GriGri 2 or a more traditional, ‘tuber’ style device. Although it’s becoming common for people to learn to belay at climbing walls using an assisted braking device, these are a) more expensive, and b) less versatile that the humble tuber. The Black Diamond ATC XP (£16.99) and DMM bug (£11.50) are both popular devices.

Top picks:

Where to buy cheap climbing gear

Your local climbing wall shop is a good place to start. They typically have a range of gear available and will certainly stock essential kit for new climbers. Climbing walls sometimes sell off their old hire shoes for super-cheap prices, but unless you’re really desperate I’d steer clear; they’re likely to be pretty battered and worn out.

Climbing shops often sell hugely discounted gear at various times of year. Keep your eye out and it’s easy to snap up a bargain. Rock + Run are one of my favourites – at the time of writing (February 2017) you can get a pair of Edelrid Tempest shoes, Edelrid Smith Climbing Harness, Wild Country belay device, Red Chilli chalk bag and a chalk ball for just £67.

If you’re taking this approach, it’s definitely worth taking some time to try on different shoes and harnesses so you know what size you are in which brands. Also, when you can afford it, go back to the shops you tried kit on in and BUY FROM THEM. Seriously – they need your support.

Buying second-hand

I would advise not buying climbing gear which has a safety element (e.g. ropes, harnesses) second-hand unless you know the owner really well and can guarantee it’s in good condition.

However, for other gear, such as shoes and chalk bags looking for second-hand equipment is a good money-saver. Now I’m a bit squeamish about the thought of buying second-hand shoes (thinking of other people’s sweaty feet in them just makes me go ‘ewww’), but it’s not uncommon for someone to buy a pair of climbing shoes online or in a sale and only wear them once or twice before decided they don’t like the fit. Keep an eye out on the noticeboard at your local wall or on the UKC Gear Forum and you may be able to grab yourself a top-quality pair of shoes for a bargain price.

Join a club

Desperate to move onto routes or start climbing outside? Your best bet to learn the ropes (literally) and avoid having to buy any expensive equipment (at least in the short term) is to join a club. Most climbing clubs have members of mixed abilities and you’re more than likely to find an experienced climber who’s willing to take an enthusiastic newbie under their wing.

The other good thing about clubs is that they may have equipment they can loan out to you, or club huts (which tend to be conveniently located in good climbing areas). The Climbers’ Club has eight of the best huts, but you do need to be an experienced outdoor climber to join.

You’ll probably be expected to know how to belay and second a route outside before joining a club. If you’re in any doubt as to your belaying skills, take a course at your local climbing wall or from a qualified instructor to reassure yourself (and potential climbing partners!) that you can catch a fall safely.

Prices correct as of 21st February 2017.

Almscliff: One of Britain’s Best Bouldering Destinations

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Reaching through the crux of Pebble Wall (6c), one of Almscliff’s classic problems

Standing high above the Wharfe valley, Almscliff is one of the most renowned gritstone bouldering venues in the UK. Be prepared for sore skin, aching arms and tough problems.

The short walk in and quick-drying nature of the rock makes Almscliff a popular bouldering spot, particularly on calm, sunny winter days. It’s not a place for solitude and if you’re looking to try the classic problems, you’re likely to have a fair bit of company. Due to its exposed location, it can get VERY cold when there’s a chill wind.

Almscliff has problems ranging from Font 4 (V0) up to Font 8b (V13). Although it’s renowned for steep, thuggy problems and routes, there are slabs, delicate aretes and long traverses thrown into the mix. It’s not the friendliest place for beginners and if you’re after some easy ticks, you’ll be sorely disappointed. That said, there’s plenty of rock on which to make up your own problems if you find those in the guide too hard!

Crag highlights

Matterhorn Ridge (4+) is the classic ‘easy’ line, though you’ll want a few pads and spotters if it’s near the top of your grade. There’s also a sit-down start at 7b+.

Up at Demon Wall area, The Crucifix (5) is an excellent easier problem (though easy is all relative!). The descent is down the corner to the left – it’s straightforward but worth having a pad and spotter if you’re a bit nervous about downclimbing. The Crucifix ‘warm up’ Traverse (6a+) starts in the corner and traverses the break all the way to the wall. Traversing the lip of the roof below the break gets you 7a.

Unnamed-boulder-almscliff

Warming up on the right-hand arete of an unnamed boulder (5)

Another good warm-up is Morrell’s Wall (6a) which starts off on big holds before some fingery climbing on crimps. There are various eliminates to prolong the fun and linking in the obvious traverse to the right gives you Slopey Traverse (7b+).

The Virgin boulder has plenty of hard, worthwhile problems. One of the easiest of the bunch is the Virgin Traverse (6b+/6c) which starts on the block to the left of the overhanging face and traverses round the corner to finish at an undercut flake. Pumpy!

Continuing the pumpy traverse theme, Sloper Patrol (6c+) takes the obvious slopey lip traverse on the boulder up the hill from The Keel. It can also be done in reverse (uphill) at a slightly easier grade.

If you enjoy mantels then Egg Roll (6b) may be right up your street. Start sitting and take the line up from the start of Streaky’s Traverse (7b+) on The Egg boulder, finishing up the slab.

Pebble Wall (6c) is an excellent technical problem that’s easier for the tall. A straightforward start leads to tricky moves up the blank wall above – the clue is in the name!

Arguably the crag classic, Demon Wall Roof (7a+) takes the inviting line out of the middle of the roof and up the wall above using crimps and the obvious flake to reach the large horizontal break. To the right of it, Dolphin Belly Slap (7a) takes the line along the edge of the roof and is another great problem.

The Keel (7c) is a popular problem that lead out from the back of the roof, past a chipped hole on the lip to the obvious pocket. Once you’ve ticked it, try it again without the chipped hold (The Real Keel, 7c+). There are many more variations and link-ups including Keelhaul (8a) and Real Keelhaul (8b).

If you like hard highball challenges then Chaismata (8a) takes the obvious line on Low Man, to the right of the Matterhorn boulder.

Almscliff fact file

Location and how to get there: Almscliff lies between Otley and Harrogate. Take the North Rigton turn off the A659 and turn left (or right depending which direction you’re coming from) in the village onto Crag Lane. Park at the western end of the crag in a large lay-by (can get busy). Follow the obvious path from the stile up the side of the field to the main area of rocks.

Almscliff-top

Spectacular views from the top of Almscliff

Access: The crag is on private land. The farmer has asked that climbers avoid the boulders in the fields below the main area and don’t climb at night. For up to date access information check the BMC’s Regional Access Database.

Best time of year: Almscliffe is a good year-round bouldering venue. It’s particularly good on cool, calm days and summer evenings, though some may find it a bit warm for optimum gritstone conditions! Almscliffe gets all the wind going, so if it’s a blowy day you may want to climb elsewhere.

Family friendly?: Almscliffe is a popular location for family walks and the easy walk in makes it a good spot for families. The one downside is the mud and ‘fertliser’ left by the animals that graze the area.

Hazards: The area around the rocks is used as grazing land and can be muddy at the best of times. After heavy rain the approach path through the fields can be extremely muddy and slippy. Be prepared to clean your pads and boots after a wet visit!

Guidebook: Almscliffe is covered in the YMC Gritstone Volume 1 and the Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering vol. 1 guides.

Local pub: The Square and Compass in North Rigton is just a few minutes drive or a 40-minute walk away.

Think your local crag’s worthy of a shout-out? I’ve climbed across most parts of the UK, so if you have a suggestion, let me know!