Rock shoes. I hate them: bitey and smelly things. At the start of my climbing career I went barefoot but sharp limestone drove me to borrow a sloppy pair. Fine for the first six months, but eventually I accepted climbing would be easier with more precise footwear. I forked out cash and resigned myself to a life of foot discomfort. But I do prefer to avoid agony – that anvil-like pressure on the big toe that builds and builds until it feels it may explode.
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Aspirations to become a mountaineer have made the agony more frequent and the hatred of my shoes more intense. I particularly hated them at the end of a long day on Tryfan. The desire to finish the route came only from the craving to take off my shoes. My partner had scoffed in a smug way earlier in the day as he put on something he called 'mountain shoes'.
"Get some. They're great for a long day out", he advised.
As much as I hate my rock shoes, I'm a girl and I like shoes. These are a pretty colour scheme and the suede is deliciously soft. Although they're a bit like your mum's slippers, the thick 5mm rubber gives me confidence they'll wear well and be right for a long mountain day. And, like slippers, they hold out a promise to be comfy with their padded internal collar and tongue. The upper suede is perforated – to provide better 'breathability' apparently. Does that mean they won't stink?
All-day and beginner shoes shouldn't be bitey at all, so I chose a size bigger than my usual footwear of torture. Perfect – on cooler days they'll allow for a thin sock. Even though there isn't the usual tug-of-war getting them on, it would be easier if there was more than one tab to assist, and lace-holes the size of pin heads make attaining a good fit an irritatingly laborious task.
For a first outing they went to the local indoor wall – I didn't want a crispy new shoe on a long day out, and I wanted to see at what grade I'd start to miss my more pointy shoes. To my toes' relief there was no pain during the two hour session. Cut higher round the ankle compared to the Scarpas, they rubbed a bit before settling down to become soft and fluffy – as I suspected, the padding prevented any serious damage. The surprising discovery was how well they climb. The Vibram sole's 5mm edge at the toe made easy work of a tricky bit of 'backward' bridging on teeny tiny footholds on a 6A+ route. So how would they do on rock and for a protracted day?...
La Sportiva Cliff 5
We had a humid day together at a quarry near the forgotten town of Merthyr Tydfil on a series of over-climbed, glassy V Diffs and Severes. They weren't fazed by the polish and I didn't experience either the sensation of slopping about in my own sweat or the toe agony. This was followed by an off-route leading incident that gave them an excellent accidental testing (route -finding skills aren't my strength).
Baggy Point, The Promontory: Sea Cliff slab. A Severe route that wasn't. The run-out below my feet and the distinct lack of useful features gave the game away - I'd found a VS 4C. The only saving grace about this unexpected turn of events was a grinning crack amenable to a large cam and the shoes – the toe edge was perfect for the slate-thin ledges. I never once regretted leaving the hated ones in my rucksack (along with the guide book - which I did regret).
Pros: Pain-free, adding confidence in climbing to a surprising level of grade. A good start to a beginner's career.
Cons: Fairly heavy. Not for those with narrow feet, nor with an ambition for E numbers or grunty bouldering.
MORE INFO: On the La Sportiva Website.
About Sarah Flint (aka fishinwater)
Sarah writes a bit, climbs a lot and prefers to be outside rather than in some office staring at a computer. She got bored with her previous obsession, gardening, a few years ago, and found the strength and fitness developed in the 13 years she had been head gardener, suited climbing perfectly. Since then she's been greedy to cram as much climbing experience into her life as possible.
Where before she wrote about vegetables, she now likes to write about all things climbing and is keen to share the learning curve of her new addiction. She's based in the south west which is ideal for popping out to a crag before lunch and whenever the addiction calls.
She has a blog on climber.co.uk called 'Off the Wall', which is mostly about how not to climb.
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