I am such a newbie with climbing that until a very little while ago, I thought ‘climbing’ and ‘bouldering’ were the same thing. Both might involve leaving the ground and going up, but that’s about where the similarities start and end. Climbing involves ropes and knots and working with someone to make sure you ascend and descend safely. I couldn’t wait to try it at Westway Climbing Centre.
Westway Climbing is London’s biggest climbing wall and I and Sister (who I took as a plus one) were offered the chance to climb with an expert. Said expert, Elsie was a wonderful young woman and she and Sister got on like a house on fire; she was studying to become a doctor and Sister is a doctor. There was a lot of medical talk going on before the session started.
Westway Climbing has 350 climbing routes and 110 roped lines of various grades (F3 to F8a) as well as 100 bouldering problems which are changed every month to keeps things new and fresh for everyone. When you walk in you can’t help but marvel at the scale of the place; it really is massive and there are walls with different coloured protrusions everywhere.
We were given the correct footwear where your toes are supposed to curl over the edge, making it easier to climb. What you don’t realise until later is that walking with your toes curved is very painful. Top tip: when not climbing take them off. I did this with great relish!
Neither I nor Sister had ever climbed with ropes before or created any knots other than the most obvious one. We were given the option of learning to tie our own knots or have Elsie do them for us. Of course I wanted to learn and after a while we were both experts in figure of eight knots and the subsequent follow through knot which helps to keep you secure when you climb.
We were also taught how to use a belay and an auto belay. A belay is a mechanical tool which allows the climber (and the person at the bottom) to help control the speed with which the climber descends. An automatic belay takes out the person at the bottom and the machine just lowers you safely back to the ground.
After the basics were covers Elsie took us from wall to wall, increasing the difficulty and making us work to reach the top of that wall. Each wall has lots and lots of places you can use to help you move up but in order for it to be a proper challenge you should stick to one colour.
I am so proud of how I was able to do in this session! I don’t know when it happened but I think I am starting to get an issue with heights / climbing / descending. I noticed it the last time I went hiking in Germany too – there was a fear that wasn’t there before, especially when I had to come down. On the first wall, as I climbed higher and higher I could feel my heart beating uncomfortably. My breathing was becoming shallow and I was starting to sweat in mild fear.
But I made it to the top fine and more importantly, I also made it down also fine. Then I did it again. And again. And again. Pretty soon I was grinning, feeling no fear, and I am so glad. I don’t want to have a fear of heights or climbing! Concentrating on making sure I used the right colours to get up the wall was a brilliant distraction. After the first wall, I didn’t even realise how high I was until I reached the top, and then I was so exhilarated that I wasn’t scared any more.
Sister and I had to work together the whole session making sure we ascended and descended correctly. Of course I’d worked in a team before but being solely responsible for someone else, carrying their weight, and making sure they reach the ground properly is something else.
This was such a brilliant session and I am so glad I had the chance to try it out and really push myself out of my comfort zone.
Westway Climbing offers multiple sessions for people depending on their level of proficiency. My session was a 90 minute taster session. You can find all the details and all the prices here.
Disclaimer: I was offered a taster session in exchange for an honest review.