Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Rock Climbing at the Westway, London

Ever eager to keep the dream and those adventurous urges alive in our daily London grind, Chris and I signed up to try out a new sport last weekend - rock climbing! There was a certain driver of necessity in this decision as Chris needs to get to a particular level of proficiency in rock climbing in order to take his mountain leader exam, but it also just felt like a cool thing to do. I thought that I might as well go along with him and learn something new as well. The couple who exercise together....hmm argue and bicker together!? oh well...

We signed up for the beginners course at the Westway centre in Shepherds Bush, London. This is a six hour course, split over the weekend mornings, so was the perfect impetus to get out of bed early and make the most of the day but didn't take up all of our precious down time - perfect!

The first day we were greeted by Alex, our instructor, who only took up climbing 4 years ago - This was a good omen as I am all for things that you can master quickly. Day one saw us learning the ropes (excuse the pun), the basic knots and testing our monkey skills on some of the simpler climbing walls. I must admit that I was a little bit chicken on my first climb up...I'm not really a fan of heights and hadn't quite anticipated just how 'free' (insecure!) you feel on the wall. You know that the ropes are there, but really it could just be you and the wall, nothing holding you at all...it takes some getting used to. It wasn't long though before I was scrambling up to the very top and testing myself by sticking to the various 'coloured' paths laid out by the trail markers. It really is as much a mental as a physical sport, something which I hadn't appreciated before. The adrenalin really does get pumping and a lot of the time you find it is your head, not your body that holds you back from the next move.

Day two was much more technical and we had a very experienced instructor who really knew his stuff. He was all up for pushing us a little harder and setting us different challenges to think about on each wall we tackled. We tried going up with one arm behind our back, using arm holds only (feet on the natural contours of the wall). We practised falling, and we continued our knot tying education! By the end of the session my arms literally couldn't grip on any longer and we finished exhausted but excited by our new found monkey skills.

What I really loved about the experience was the sense of freedom and achievement in the sport. Once you know the basics you can rock up, with a partner, and just practice and practice, pushing yourself very quickly from step to step. There are skills to learn, but you can't be really bad at it in the way that you can be at other sports...you just learn from experience. This appeals to me.

Rock climbing is all about trust. Your life basically relies on the concentration and safety of your climbing partner. Luckily Chris and I seem to trust each other, despite the fact that I constantly forgot to tighten my carabiners and occasionally didn't loop things through the right way...fortunately he triple checks everything! hee hee...

We thoroughly enjoyed the course laid on by the Westway centre and as a bonus they give you a month's free entry to their facilities following the course so it's amazing value. Their climbing walls are well known for being the best in London and with over 350 different climbing routes and 90 route changes a month the variety would keep even the most seasoned climber busy. We would both heartily recommend popping along if you're at all interested in trying out climbing. You get a good long intro to the basics of the sport, with a strong emphasis on safety so that you can go back on your own, and by the end of the weekend will have a good idea of whether it's for you or not. All this, and you're finished by lunch time both days so you don't even lose any of your weekend.

A 6 hour beginner's climbing course at the Westway costs £95 per person with a group of 4 max. You can take the course in 2 hour sessions on weekday evenings or in 3 hour sessions over the weekend. For more information and to book, visit the Westway centre website

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