Bouldering in the Falklands
Falkland Islander Lisa Watson is a keen boulderer and editor of the Falklands local newspaper. She and her partner Jonny Summers are on a mission to build the Islands first bouldering gym. Find her on Instagram @lisapenguin and on Twitter @lisafalklands
Being capable of shearing 300 sheep in a day, building your house single-handed and freeing a land rover from a swamp without the assistance of a winch, are just a few of the talents that will get you admired in the Falklands Islands.
Climbing a bunch of rocks, with or without ropes, mainly elicits puzzled expressions from the general populace.
It’s not that we Islanders don’t appreciate the skills involved in the various outdoor sports – we do – it’s just that in a country where practical pioneering skills have always been so vital to survival, going outside in the cold and wet for nothing more than leisure purposes just seems a bit … well daft.
This crazy behaviour is growing though. Despite our inclement weather, horse-riding for fun (as opposed to sheep and cattle work) surfing, kite-surfing, kayaking, distance running and plenty of other outdoor sports are increasing in popularity.
Climbing has been around in the Falklands for many years, primarily trad and mainly undertaken by visitors or the occasional thrill-seeking local, likely involving equipment that would have the pro-climber shrieking with horror.
The sport of bouldering is unheard of – until recently that is.
My partner Jonny, a local like myself, discovered an obsession for bouldering years back while studying in climbing-mad Sheffield.
In fact, during the first weeks of us getting together he apologetically explained he was off on a 3-month bouldering trip to Hatun Machay in Peru.
Our relationship survived the break, and on his return, while I had no set intention of adopting his chosen sport, it didn’t take long to become brain-washed by piles of climbing magazines and enforced Reel Rock movie-watching. Before I knew it I was scrambling up rain and lichen covered slabs and rappelling off cliff faces.
Falklands weather is horribly unsuited to planned climbing trips though. We have brutally cold, strong winds and the weather can change in seconds from warm sun to dangerously hypothermia-inducing conditions. Winter is largely a no go for climbing and even summer weather is highly unpredictable.
So to be honest, the whole climbing thing wouldn’t have progressed at all if it weren’t for a garage clear out.
I’d travelled to Santiago in Chile for some dental work when a Facebook message from Jonny mysteriously informed me ‘I’m going to clean up your garage – I’ve got some ideas for it…’
On my return the place was spotless and painted and with some strange looking piece of wood rising up out of the far corner; a Moonboard no less.
While I’d assume most Womenclimb readers know what that is – for those who don’t it’s a marvellous contraption invented by British climber Ben Moon. A 40 degree training wall with an accompanying app. It’s brilliant and addictive and is commonly known in my garage as the Meanboard.
Suddenly in this tiny little corner of the far end of the South Atlantic we could climb in conjunction with others all over the world.
The truth is though, the Moonboard was far too hard for me to start out on. So Jonny, kindly person that he is, built another 30 degree wall, added some big jugs and began to coach me patiently.
I was eventually able to strengthen up enough to begin the easiest problems on the Moonboard. I’m so short I have to dyno to line 10 so it’s been interesting!
Since then I’ve climbed in Chile and Brazil and most recently in the USA in the Buttermilks, Happy and Sad Boulders, and Red Rocks, Vegas. In the Falklands we’ve driven from one end to the next seeking good boulders to climb – they’re few and far between but they’re there!
I’ve also had injuries unheard of before – as a horse-rider with some flat racing thrown in, I was used to broken fingers and ankles and the occasional head injury. Now I’ve discovered intercostal strains, elbow pain, and flexor unit and pulley strains.
Look I’m not young – I’m in my forties (that’s all I’m saying), but luckily I’m tiny and light and have worked out most of my life. I took to bouldering with a sense of utter joy.
That childish feeling of mad excitement and passion about a sport wasn’t something I’d anticipated experiencing again – but there it was.
After a while I began to feel selfish. If it was this good for me, then why not let others try it?
So a few have-a-go sessions later, we quickly established a small group committed to learning or improving their skills. It probably goes without saying we’re all madly enthusiastic, and I find it interesting that the people who have become very caught up in it have largely been women.
I’m not sure why that is, but it’s a sport that requires patience and technique – strength is great but it isn’t everything – perhaps that helps. And let’s face it, if women are traditionally the glue that holds society together then problem solving has to be a natural talent right?
Next we had a call from the local inline hockey coach who asked if he could send along a few of his star youth players. He wanted them to improve their core strength.
As you can imagine they were pretty marvellous and one of our group has just climbed her first V4. They’re all going to kick my butt soon when it comes to progressing up the grades – but I couldn’t be happier about it.
We have five separate sessions (all we can fit in between our jobs), the problem is that more than five people in one session is simply too much in the small space.
Hence our idea developed to build a proper bouldering gym. It would be the first in the Falklands (not counting the one on the military base 30 miles away, which isn’t easy to access).
After much thought and research, including polling the entire community for their opinion, last week we received a letter to say our outline planning application to build a bouldering gym would be considered next month.
It’s a tiny first step, but we’ve had nothing but encouragement from the Islands’ Development Corporation, the Falkland Islands Government, the Planning Department, the Falkland Islands Overseas Games Association, the schools and the rest of the community.
It’s also been encouraging how supportive climbers around the world have been. I have asked and received advice from the CEO of Planet Granite in the USA, climber John Dunne in the UK and a climbing photographer pal of British bouldering champ Shauna Coxsey. When we’ve asked for tips – literally nobody has ignored us.
Jonny and I know this project, if it comes to fruition, will be a massive plus for our society. It’s healthy, it’s fun, it’s addictive and perhaps just as importantly in this chilly part of the world it’s inside!
In the Falklands it’s a simple matter to influence an entire generation – if all goes well perhaps one day we’ll be able to boast more climbing shoes and crash pads per head of population than anywhere else in the world.
Watch this space.