A quick Google before we set off to The Arch Climbing Wall revealed bouldering to be “a form of rock climbing that is performed without ropes or harnesses.” *GULP*.
What had I signed myself up for? I reassured myself with the fact that I’d be joining a group introduction session (£20) at one of London’s biggest indoor rock climbing centres, so surely I’d get the hang of it…
Turns out that I was able to do it, and I actually quite enjoyed unleashing my inner Spiderwoman once I got into it. I did, however, manage to take a 4-metre high drop from the rocks immediately after yelling down to the instructor, “I can’t dooo it, I’m going to die. I’m going to die!”
As it was my first ever time bouldering, the introduction session was essential. The session includes the hire of climbing shoes, and an hour with climbing instructors who show you the safest way to climb and navigate the walls before letting you loose on them. They explained why the climbing shoes are so uncomfortably tight (to give you good grip on the rocks), and also showed us what to do if we felt like we were about to fall – you’re supposed to jump backwards away from the wall and squat and roll as you land. I seemed to have trust issues with the crash mats and found it difficult to nail this landing, despite multiple tries.
As a newbie, you look up at the walls with all those multi-coloured notches and you think, “this will be easy, I’ll show them!” That is until you realise that you’re only supposed to follow a particular route that’s marked out by hand and footholds of a particular colour or pattern – and if you’re strict with yourself, you only complete it using those corresponding pieces on the wall. Routes are set out in difficulty levels, and when you get past the first few easy ones, life gets hard.
It takes a lot of strength, coordination and technique too – it’s a big of a juggling act and I often got hot and flustered up on the wall because I couldn’t figure out where next to put my foot or hand. It also made me realise that this was much more than just a day out – bouldering is a sport in itself, and you’ve got to practice to get good at it.
Things got exciting when the instructors took us over to the overhang walls, where the rock slopes more than 90 degrees and you’re kind of clutching for dear life. This was where people – myself included – started dropping like flies.
The overhang wall was much more difficult to navigate, and the challenge induced a bit more adrenaline. Somehow I made it to the top, but I was too scared to come down. I was screeching to the instructor, “I’m going to fall” as I tried to figure out a way down, but then I lost my footing. Just as the instructor was saying: “You’re not going to fall, you can do it,” I’d dropped. Thankfully I fell gracefully, somehow did a little twirl and landed on my feet, but others landed in odd positions, one on her chin. Ouch. So this was why they made you sign those ‘if-you-die,-we’re-not-responsible’ forms at the start, I realised.
After the introduction session, I climbed for about half an hour with a friend before we decided that we were too drained to continue. It was definitely a full body workout, and I came away with sore, red hands and an aching body (the pains lasted for three days afterwards, WAH), but it was great to try something new. #ThisGirlCan
The introduction group was quite large (about 20 of us) so you had to wait your turn to have a go on the walls, but the atmosphere was really great, with others cheering you on and helping you navigate the routes, and instructors giving you tips on how to improve.
I turned up in leggings, trainers and a t-shirt but it was super chilly inside the centre so I’d recommend a fleece or an additional layer or two if you’re visiting. There are lockers for your belongings, and rather basic changing rooms (they are literally just rooms with a bench inside).
Judging by the number of other climbers turning up to have a crack at the walls, it’s a very popular pastime and the centre has developed a great community of regulars. There’s music playing in the background and it seems to be very much a social setting, where people get fit and socialise at the same time, so it’s a good chance to make friends too.