In any city/town or climbing district, there will be those pushing the mark. Those who like to train, and train and train, or are simply natural climbers. They are smashing it nonetheless, but often tend to have logos stuck all over them. And you will have only heard of them through the latest adverts.
Then there are those secret climbers. They’ve been around a while, yet you’ve only seen them once or twice down the wall. But they’re crushing nonetheless.
By surrounding yourselves with these people, whether it’s one person or a whole group, I think can help to push your climbing further, in whichever direction you wish for it to follow. Whether we like it or not, this is (undeniably) true.
"I was always amazed when I watched people climb in the 7s and 8s – I couldn’t imagine ever being able to hold on to such small holds or cling on to such amazing overhanging routes. It was not until I moved to Bristol a couple of years ago that I started to push myself." - Wendy Coles
These people also tend to be the nicest people you’ll meet in climbing. They’re not (too) competitive, they’re hardly stressed, and they’re extremely friendly. All because they’ve found something that they are passionate about, so appear at ease whenever they are in an environment surrounding that passion.
Watching how they climb, what they’re focussed on and what drives them can act as a catalyst in how we can look at our climbing. The people I have chosen to include here may not be the strongest, the craziest, or the most high-level climbers out there. Rather they're who I’ve watched climb, chatted with, and ultimately learned from and beam a stronger idolism for me, than say, the guy on the latest poster for a climbing brand.
I have chosen these particular folk, because sometimes, when I feel my climbing is lagging, or my mojo is fading, I’ll refer back to these individuals and their spirit for the sport. And usually, this will kick-start my enthusiasm again.
Each individual I have chosen is unique and unlike the others; different jobs, different views on climbing, different styles of climbing, different groups of people. But something that connects all of them is a clear focus. This is shown in their relaxed, committed approach to their climbing. These guys aren’t hitting top-end grades, or trying to get their face in a magazine. They’re quietly pushing their own goals, and spicing up what climbing means to them.
These lovely folk have donated their time to writing these profiles, so I hope you do the same in reading them!
(A massive thanks for all those who contributed!)
The Bristol Scene
When/How/ Where did you start climbing? I started climbing when I was 17. At the time I did a lot of dancing, but over the course of a year I gradually gave up dancing and became obsessed with climbing. I was introduced to climbing by my boyfriend, Howard, who took me to Warrington climbing wall and then, when my belaying was up to scratch, out trad climbing.
What has kept you motivated all this time? I enjoy lots of different disciplines of climbing (mainly sport, trad, bouldering, alpine rock and as of this summer deep water soloing) and change between them frequently. I think this inevitably makes you a bit of "a jack of all trades, yet a master of none", but has prevented me from getting bored with any one style. I have also been lucky enough to travel to different countries to climb: getting schooled by new styles of climbing is many things, but never boring!
What has been your greatest climbing achievement, and why? A route that stands out in my mind is The American Direct on the Dru in the French alps, one of my first alpine rock routes, it required 3 days of effort and felt like a big undertaking given my level of experience in the mountains.
Day 1: we hiked the hefty approach from Chamonix to the base of the Dru (since we couldn´t afford the luxury of getting the train part of the way up) followed by a bivy underneath the route. Day 2 dealt us an alpine start of 4 am; route finding on a large piece of rock with some reasonably loose sections, two crux pitches (f6c-ish on trad); 21 pitches from the base and an abseil descent in the dark. Walking down on day 3 might still be the most exhausted I have felt after climbing. Climbing the Dru made me realise how much I enjoy being up high on a rock face and how satisfying it feels to climb long routes.
Since then I have climbed many more multi-pitch routes. This autumn I had my first big-wall experience in Yosemite, climbing Freerider on El Capitan. Sometimes I feel a sense of achievement from simply fully enjoying climbing. Although I didn´t manage to free climb the whole of Freerider, I enjoyed the experience: smiling whilst trying to free a stuck haul bag, laughing whilst trying to fight your way up awkward pitches and enjoying looking at the stars when you can´t sleep because the tiny ledge you're crammed onto is uneven and cold.
Are you still climbing now and how often/little? Just after I started climbing I went to university. During term time I did a lot of university work and during the long holidays I did a lot of climbing and often went abroad. So my climbing schedule was pretty on/off, which I think has helped maintain motivation. Since graduating, I have spent time working to earn enough money to fund my next climbing trip. At the moment I am in Central America, taking a break after climbing for 2 months in California, learning to surf. Although surfing is really fun it doesn´t come close to climbing for me and I am excited to get some blood back into my forearms sport climbing in Brazil.
Do you set goals/training, or do you just 'go with the flow'? Since my main interest lies in outdoor climbing I tend to think of routes that I would like to climb, styles that I would like to get better at or places that I would like to visit during the year. I enjoy climbing indoors, but so far I have failed to stick to any particular training, which may be why I don´t get round to achieving my goals as quickly as possible!
When/How/ Where did you start climbing? I first started climbing aged 7 at the Bristol Climbing Centre, I used to climb around buildings close to our house and piss off the neighbours. Mum saw an ad for the wall and thought it would keep me out of trouble so she took me along.
What still keeps you motivated? In terms of staying motivated it's not so bad not being climbing fit, you just change your objectives a bit. Maybe do some less accessible classics or a bit of chossy new routing, there's still plenty of fun to be had when weak.
What has been your greatest climbing achievement, and why? I don't really know about achievements. I climbed without chalk for quite a while and managed to get up some tricky routes. My route in Avon ‘Two Gay Dads’ stands out. I did it when I was fifteen after skiving off school for three months to get it done. It ended up going in the book as ‘Statement of Youth’ for some reason. It was named after Ron and Dean who used to take me climbing when I was a young ‘un. It's in the problem pages at sea walls. It's a pretty rubbish route really, got a second ascent and an upgrade a few years ago by Guy Percival. I'm hoping it will be changed in the next Avon book.
Are you still climbing these days and how often/little? I think I'll always climb to some extent. I've not done much over the past few years mainly due to working away and being generally busy doing house stuff. The few bits I have done have been pretty good. I think it's more about enjoying quality rather than doing loads of routes now...Last time I climbed was back in June, so I’m starting to get a bit rusty now.
When/How/ Where did you start climbing?
I started climbing after I left Uni about four years ago in Nottingham. It was something I’d always wanted to try but never really had the chance to before and decided I needed another hobby apart from partying. I went down the bouldering wall one day with a friend and was instantly hooked!
What has kept you motivated all this time? I just really love it! It's challenging and really fun at the same time and regardless of what ‘goals’ you may have or what grade you climb, everybody can get the same satisfaction out of it. The main thing that keeps me motivated is the holidays...I definitely love climbing holidays.
Are you still climbing now and how often/little? It’s really difficult keeping a ‘work/climbing’ balance. My job is pretty demanding, as I manage suppliers and support the sales team, so it can get pretty hectic at times especially when I have to be on the road. When I first started, I used to climb five times a week all evening and all day on the weekends as I just wanted to climb all the time! Now, on the other hand, it tends to be two evenings a week for a few hours...but still both days on the weekend! Training is really important and I try to be a bit more specific about what I do, e.g. I’ll have one or two ‘social’ nights and then an hour or so a couple of times a week of cross training and finger boarding etc. The thing is I bloody love training too! It also helps that we have a 12ft woody and gym set up in our garage that we all use so it’s really tempting to spend an hour down there every eve and never leave!
I also love going on climbing holidays (did I mention that?), and this is where you obviously climb the best! I just got back from a month sport climbing in China for some Christmas sun! Having a Van is also amazing as you can follow the weather anywhere on the weekends, we try to make the most of the summer by getting away every weekend.
What has been your greatest climbing achievement, and why? Climbing ‘Thunder’ 7c, in a day, the reason being that that grade has always felt so hard and recently they’ve felt a lot easier to do. It's amazing when something just clicks whatever the grade! It's great seeing progression especially on routes that would once have felt hard but you can now do quickly. Saying that, the route was absolutely my style; 18m of big pumpy moves on tiny crimps!
Do you set goals/training, or do you just 'go with the flow'? I don’t really set training ‘goals’ but I definitely have to be wiser with my time so I try and train a fair amount during the week. I usually have a good idea of what I’m about to do before I train each sesh but sometimes, if you’re not in the mood you can’t really fight it. I definitely set myself targets for the year though, this year was 7c+ which I got a lot earlier than I was expecting. Next year all the targets revolve around trad, something that I’ve never really done before and am really excited to try!
When/How/ Where did you start climbing? My passion for climbing began in 2007 when my Brother, Mike Coles insisted that I join him at the Bristol Climbing wall. He assured me that I’d fall in love with the sport and that my slight fear of heights would not be a problem! (In reality he needed a belay partner!) Not being in the least bit sporty before my first trip to Undercover Rock I was pleasantly surprised when I felt instantly gripped by climbing.
At the time I wasn’t close to any climbing areas so it made it hard to turn climbing into a regular hobby. To my frustration, I was only able to climb a few times a month.
My first few years of climbing were mainly spent in the 6s and occasionally trying to top rope the odd 7a. I was always amazed when I watched people climb in the 7s and 8s – I couldn’t imagine ever being able to hold on to such small holds or cling on to such amazing overhanging routes. It was not until I moved to Bristol a couple of years ago that I started to push myself. The climbing bug had got a hold of me even more!
A year ago my boyfriend, Tom, and I decided to save up some money, pack up our belongings and live in a van for a year in Spain. Our trip started in El Chorro where I decided to get on my first 8a, I fell in love with the delicate, flowing movements but I knew that it was going to be a real challenge for me. There were so many intricate moves to remember that I ended up going through them in my sleep. I remember getting through the crux – I was so nervous but took the plunge, made the moves and caught the massive final jug…I was ecstatic! Soon after I got my second 8a and was then psyched to get on something harder.
What still keeps you motivated? - Climbing outdoors, travelling to new and beautiful places, and friends.
What has been your greatest climbing achievement, and why? Tricky one - my first 7b+ redpoint was a massive step up in my climbing and made me realise that I could climb harder. Getting my first 8a+ felt pretty good, but I prefer on-sighting really as it is such a great feeling and you feel completely in the zone and unaware of everything that is around you.
Whilst in El Chorro I onsighted a couple of 7b+s – ‘Generale Limite’ being my hardest and most desperate onsight. The route had hard moves interspersed with good rests – the end was such a fight, and I couldn’t relax until the rope was clipped into the anchor. I love the feeling of on-sighting something at my limit – the rock can throw so many weird and wonderful formations at you so that you have to think and act fast to make it to the top.
Are you still climbing these days and how often/little? I try to climb 2 evenings a week and then 1 or 2 days at the weekend. If I didn't work then I'd love to climb more! I try and go on 2 climbing trips abroad a year and throughout the year I take long weekends away in the UK.
Do you have a set training plan, or do you just 'go with the flow'? Just go with the flow - every year I 'aim' to train but can never motivate myself enough. I struggle to get motivated indoors. Really I should concentrate on my weaknesses - overhangs, slopers, dynos etc, but I just love climbing for climbing, and I have never enjoyed training. But I know that I have plateaued and to progress I really need to train....so maybe next year!
When/How/ Where did you start climbing? I grew up in Axbridge and went to school in Cheddar and never knew that climbing was going on there, or anywhere really. It never entered my head as I was more into cars growing up. Then at college studying Engineering I was busy doing Karate, judo, fencing, kayaking and teaching weight training at the college gym. It was not until Phil Butler, my gym teacher who was a keen climber, asked me if I would like to try it that I gave it any real thought. I had a few sessions on the Millfield school climbing wall but did not give it much thought at the time until at the end of the year, there was a trip to North Wales and I blagged my way onto it. More because it sounded fun than the fact that climbing was happening. I had a great time but I was just more into martial arts and kayaking. It took another year when I was 19 and working in Bristol that a friend I was caving with said that a new climbing wall had opened 'Under Cover Rock' and we should check it out.
It was easy to get hooked on climbing. It was an amazing time the early 90's. The climbing scene in Bristol was pumping. There were so many passionate and inspired climbers like Lucy Creamer, Ben Bransby, Ian Parnell, Rob Parker, Paul Reily, Naomi Guy, Paul Twomey, Mike Weeks and so many more... it was impossible not to get hooked for a country bumpkin like me, the city lights were just too damn fun.
What still keeps you motivated? My motivation for climbing really does wax and wane, like the moon. I know that I will climb until I'm dead. So it’s ok to relax with it at times and let other things get in the way. Then pick it up again when the time is right.
How can you not love it? When it feeds your soul with so much rich experience, takes you to the best places on earth with the most amazing people and challenges you to look inside one's own self to grow.
What has been your greatest climbing achievement, and why? There have been so many experiences and achievements in climbing that I'm proud of. But I always hope the best is still to come.
Are you still climbing these days and how often/little? At the moment most of my spare time is taken up modifying my Motorhome, Motorbike and Kit car. Soon they will be finished and I will be off to Spain to go climbing with friends and I'll be keen again. Climbing for me is like the ultimate mistress; never too far from your thoughts, always tempting you and more than happy to take up all your time and money.
Do you have a set training plan, or do you just 'go with the flow'? Both. I set goals when I find a goal that grabs me. Or I just go with the flow if a goal in climbing is not there and let other things I love in life fill the space. Maybe this winter will be the one that I find the perfect line to make me train my butt off and spend all my day wanting to climb!
When/How/ Where did you start climbing? I started climbing seven years ago when I was 18. I lived in Taunton, and the local gym I attended had a climbing wall. After some time of getting disillusioned with using the gym for strength and fitness, I finally decided to go to this wall to climb instead of the gym. I met a strong climber called Sash, and realised how much stronger and more technical I could get. The inspiration took me, I quickly stopped the gym and put energy into this sport
What still keeps you motivated? Where to start?! My motivation originally came from watching climbing videos like King Lines, Dosage Volumes and Petzl rock trips. Seeing climbers like Said Belhaj, Tyler Landman, David Lama and Chris Sharma that have a great movement and style on the rock. Ultimately it's the feeling of stepping into your own power, getting in touch with many aspects of yourself and that feeling of being in the moment, finding the limits and learning more about myself. For me motivation comes from being inspired to climb great routes or boulders with grace, for example being on a beautiful set of moves, a feature or in an exposed position. It comes from being in nature, travelling and meeting other passionate people.
What has been your greatest climbing achievement, and why? I would consider my greatest climbing achievement as flashing some 7b+'s and climbing a handful of 7C's over two days in a row in Cheddar. Climbing my first 8a route at Brean and climbing 'La Barre Fixe' in Fontainebleau were also highlights for me.
Something else that comes to mind is a first ascent of an 8a, 8 pitch route that I climbed with a great friend of mine, Daniel Peis. I didn't manage to do many of the pitches, but that day really took me out of my comfort zone, it was a true adventure in a very exposed area of the Austrian Alps. We ran out of light, there was a huge amount of rock fall and it got freezing as it took longer than thought. I learnt a lot that day and really thanked being alive after the experience!
Are you still climbing these days and how often/little? Currently I'm climbing 2 days a week, half the time I would be usually If I was 'training hard'. This is because the winter doesn't inspire me all that much so I put more energy into my yoga and cycling. As the trips and pleasant weather come around, I'll be climbing much more intensely
Do you have a set training plan, or do you just 'go with the flow'? I go through phases of having training routines. I like to go with my intuition. I once built a woody in our house and trained on it 6 days a week for 2 hours at least. I was the strongest I've ever been at this time. However with that strength came injury!
Since then I go with the flow but I know I could take it up a level if I had some more structure. Structure tends to come into my routine more when I have my eyes set on certain projects. For me there has to be the balance of plenty of stretching and good health to balance the intensity and stress that comes with doing this sport, I can't highlight the importance of that.
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