I love the adventure of long traditional climbs and I enjoy going to indoor walls with friends for fun and exercise. Occasionally I’ve made the effort to push my lead grade but 6a is my indoor all-time best and the rare VS outside.
In winter it’s too cold to climb outside, and it’s tempting to hibernate until springtime, when real climbing can begin again. But recently my indoor climbing has improved a little and that has given me an idea. What if I set myself a winter challenge? It might lift my spirits enough to see me through until spring.
Before long I’ve told all my friends about my new objective:
40 6a indoor leads before the end of March
Clean. No falls, no dogging, no resting on the rope. From now on, visits to the wall will be about more than socialising and top-roping a few 5’s!
I start at Amersham. A warm up on a couple of fives and then onto my challenge. ‘The White’. Confidently I heave up onto the first hold, lose my balance, grab for another, and end up back on the floor. That didn’t go very well! I try again and this time I struggle up as far as a little overhang just below mid-height. This involves a strenuous pull-up on my weak right arm. Exhausted, I give up and let my climbing partner have a go. He fares better; resting on the rope several times before making it to the top. Challenge lost. For now.
Next day; Reading Climbing Centre. This is where my Scouting friends go most weeks. I can’t find them and I console myself on the auto-belays.
As I’m about to leave, I bump into them at the far end of the hall. Soon I have a belayer and set my sights on a nice looking route that goes up and over an arch on tiny footholds with an empty space below. Thrilled by the sense of exposure, I nervously tiptoe above the void using the top lower offs as runners. Triumphantly I reach the finish and am lowered into space. “That’s probably the easiest 6a in the world,” I think. “But it counts!”
Early November and I’ve just spent the weekend hiking in the Peak District with my outdoor training group. The weather has been poor and I’ve scuttled over to Manchester keen to carry on with my challenge. I’ve persuaded an old friend to belay me and we head off to Awesome Walls. After a warm-up on a 5, I set my sights on my next 6a. It’s a disaster. By one-third height I’m resting on the rope and by half-way I’m exhausted. Disappointed I come back down.
I’m doubtful I can lead anything here now and this is confirmed when I bottle out halfway up the sandy coloured holds on the right wall of the elevated section.
I take a rest and belay as my friend glides up the harder, higher routes on the back wall. There’s a red 6a in the middle of this wall, and I think, “what the hell” and give it a go. Surprisingly it’s not too bad and before long I reach the first lower off. I decide that the rules are ‘this counts’ and I come down, pleased to have made my second conquest.
A neat little corner climb follows and now I’ve done three! It’s becoming obvious that strenuous routes are my problem, but that’s OK. I can work on them.
Ten days into the challenge…
Ten days into my challenge and I’ve managed to lead six 6a’s but I’m still failing on the sandy-coloured route in Stockport and ‘The White’ at Amersham.
I’ve made a good start. Maybe, just maybe, I could consider doing my Climbing Wall Development Instructor (CWDI) award next year. I check the criteria. I’m supposed to have logged sub-6a leads and belaying leaders on routes. I must have done hundreds of those over the years – I don’t log how many baths I’ve had either!
I have a lot of questions about the award and email for answers. They send me back a cut and paste of the criteria. RTFM. Annoyed, I consider dropping the whole CWDI idea. I’m doing the 6a challenge for me; not for anyone else!
The next day I’m thinking about things a bit differently. People often ask me about the ML Scheme, which I’ve taught in the past. “What counts as a quality day?” “Does my trek in Norway count?” I reply that the guidelines are not there as a tick list; they are to to give you an idea of the experience and enthusiasm needed to get the most out of the training and be a great leader in the future. The CWDI is the same. Just enjoy the climbing.
By Alison Stockwell