Natalie

2nd Dec 2007

Question:

Just to give you some background, I've been climbing since March this year and after 3 months moved onto lead climbing (sometimes top roping a route to work it out first if its a bit nerve wracking!). I'm on the 6a's now.

I've climbed outside at Portland, Harrison's and in the Peaks, but all on top rope, I've only lead indoors, but now I feel ready to have my first lead outside. Do you have any ideas about a good place to go (UK or abroad) to try out some nice starter sport routes? Also, my climbing partner is much more experienced, so I'd want to go somewhere where there would be enough good routes to keep him happy : ) !

My second question was about falling - to practice or not to practice it... that is the question!?

Thanks!

Natalie (5' 4" !)

Answer:

We have a very strong wall culture in the UK which is interestingly at odds with our trad heritage. But this is partially due to our dismal weather and geographical locations.

One would’ve thought that as walls are so popular and the style is sport climbing, we would have a good variety of outdoor sport climbing unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Our rock lends itself to trad, whereas rock on the continent lends itself to sport.

So we are stuck with a few choice locations that can’t always cater for everybody’s’ needs.

You have already sampled the best area we have in the UK for low-mid grade sport climbing at Portland. This has a good selection of routes, the starter ones are on slabby blocks below Battleship Edge.

The Costa Blanca is also a good area for people who want easier routes but obviously can be a bit polished but are still not bad quality. Toix sea cliffs are a good place to start.

There is a good crag in Northern Provence called Baume Rousse that has fantastic f4’s and f5’s on it’s wings, then in it’s central amphitheatre has excellent quality f6’s and f7’s and the odd f8. So plenty for everybody to be getting on with. As with the Costa Blanca there are lots of other quality crags in the area too. It is also a beautiful place to go for a holiday.

Both these areas have English guides, which you will find in the shops or on the net. The Costa Blanca area has a rock fax and the Baume Rousse is a Jingo Wobbly publication called Avignon Soleil. (Majorca has a good selection too).

It sounds like you have been doing sensible progressions, like top roping routes first before you lead them indoors.

It would probably be wise to do this outside first too. But there is no difference between indoor and outdoor leading so you should have no trouble making the transition.

The only major differences are; outside there are more holds to choose from so that’s easier especially if you are shorter (although can be confusing to those who don’t like thinking too much!). And grades will differ. Some wall grades are stiff some are soft, so don’t expect you will necessarily be climbing the same grade out as in.

Also, if you are keen to on sight routes, then don’t spend too long on the top roping side of things; as this might affect your head for the future.

With regards the falling issue, this really comes down to personal preference. Fall practice will help some people and petrify others.

It also depends whether you feel that falling is hindering your climbing. It might be too early to tell as you haven’t been climbing very long but is the fear of falling stopping you from climbing routes?

If yes, then it needs to be addressed.

If you feel you would be able to climb past a bolt even if it felt tricky and deal with the consequences of a possible fall, then you are on the right track.

If you did want to practice a fall, make sure you set it up properly. You are not trying to scare yourself. So identify a section on a route that is steeper than the rest, so you won’t scrape yourself on the rock (i.e., don’t try it on a slab unless you are feeling super confident).

Start with very short falls with your waist by the bolt, and then gradually progress to longer ones.

The success of this will depend on your partners belaying skills. They will need to give you a dynamic belay. This means at the point when you fall and the rope is going tight, instead of locking off hard and giving you a harsh jolting landing; they will move in towards the rock therefore putting some slack into the system to make your landing softer.

This type of belaying should be adopted as a matter of course by everybody, inside and out.

It could prevent a lot of ankle injuries and nasty bangs.

Good luck with it all and enjoy yourself.