‘Climbing for me is like a dance, when I am in the moment I don’t have to think about what I’m doing.’
Ella Williams is an outdoors instructor living in North Wales. At the time of writing, she was 29 years old, born in 1987, having started rock climbing at the age of 26. She is 5ft1 (155cm tall). We met Ella on a climbing weekend in north Wales in 2015, where she showed her love of sharing the outdoors with others. This is a really beautiful piece of writing, enjoy.
Tell us how you started climbing:
I moved to Wales in September 2013 after a 6 month recovery from a car accident, where I was hit in a head-on collision by a drunk driver. I’d tried a little bit of bouldering that summer but was still nervous about my freshly healed foot, which I’d broken in the crash. I knew in my outdoor career I’d neglected rock climbing for walking and paddlesports so I decided some gentle indoor roped climbing would be a good start. My new friend and colleague Paul had not climbed for some time and fancied getting into it again, so we were an ideal team, despite the height difference (he’s 6’3ish!). It was great to spend time getting to know him, working on my confidence, learning new skills and challenging myself. With every small milestone of success, it soon became addictive!
What problems did you have when you first began climbing, if any?
Sometimes I would feel terribly self-conscious about people watching me and this would affect the way in which I climbed massively. I’d lose confidence and ‘flow’, giving up very easily. When I went back to the bouldering wall again, I realised this feeling of intimidation had more to do with how I was feeling about myself, rather than a reflection on the people at the wall. After sticking with it and focusing on the climbing, I ended up meeting tons of lovely people and friends this way. Sometimes I still falter in my climbing ability due to feelings of self-directed pressure, I know that people don’t care how hard I climb, but the ego can be fragile sometimes! This is more likely to happen with people I don’t climb with often, with my pals I’m happy to fall off things care-free, as they encourage me and my progression whatever my ability. It’s definitely important to climb with people who make you feel good.
Tell us about your climbing:
Like a lot of people in North Wales, I climb whatever I can, depending on the weather! If it’s sunny, I’m outside on trad, preferably a nice sociable multipitch day, Tremadog being one of my favourites. For a really long evening with maximum sunset-on-the-sea potential, I may go out to Anglesey, where we have Holyhead mountain for testing out grades on shorter single pitch routes, or Gogarth, the sea-cliff venue of dreams! I tend to go to there with more experienced climbers than myself so I can try my luck on the harder routes on second, as the routes and shapes you can pull are incredible! When the weather’s bad I head inside to the Beacon, or to the Indy Climbing Wall. In the winter I sometimes climbed up to 3 times a week inside, to get stronger and to essentially have a fitness session. In the summer I’m keen to get out as much as I can, during days off or after work. I only tend to do sport climbing outside abroad, but I’d like to do more here this summer.
Why do you rock climb?
I first found climbing a really positive way to work through my residual anxiety from Post Traumatic Stress following the car accident. The mental focus, the natural endorphins released and sense of achievement on completing each challenge were ideal for building my self-esteem back up again. The physical strength improvements and positive changes in my body were an added bonus, helping again with my renewed confidence. Despite the fact I have come a long way from the person I was back then, I still find climbing provides me with a therapeutic release and it gives me a sense of ‘rightness’ and wellbeing that no other sport provides. Climbing for me is like a dance, when I am in the moment I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, something else takes over and I feel nothing but contentment in the flow and movement of my body.
What’s the best thing about climbing?
The best thing about climbing is how anyone can get involved and find a style that suits them! I love larking about on boulder problems with my pals, falling off, laughing and attempting different methods to complete the challenge.
Have you ever taught others to climb?
I teach children to climb on a regular basis, mostly indoors at the centre I work for, but on occasion I get to introduce people to rock as well. I really enjoy teaching climbing sessions as it is a hobby I am so passionate about that it doesn’t really feel like work. I am a great advocate for the benefits climbing can bring people and this comes across in my sessions pretty quickly.
What would you say to someone thinking about having a go at rock climbing?
Don’t worry! If you head out with someone more experienced than you, with acres of patience and understanding, then you will find the whole process a lot easier to get used to. Fears about being lowered or falling off are common and simple exercises with a considerate climbing partner will ensure you can move on from these quickly.
Do you have any climbing tips or tricks that have helped you through problems (big or small) or tricky times?
Shaky or ‘Elvis’ leg tends to happen when I’m nervous about a move, but can be dealt with by changing the pressure on that foot, pushing down on the ball or toes for instance. This tends to give me a sense of control over my body that often transfers across to gaining a hold on my nerves. The anticipation of the move often is worse than the move itself!
If it’s a personal problem that I’m working through, my first choice to clear my head is bouldering inside. It’s so easy to do on your own, to get a bit of space, plus the very nature of solving a different problem to the one you’re facing is cathartic to me.
What has been the most difficult thing for you during the time that you’ve been a rock climber?
I had to stop climbing for around 2 months this winter after injuring my wrist at Stanage and not really considering it to be serious. Everytime it felt okay, I’d carry on bouldering, but this then exacerbated the issue. I switched to indoor sport climbing in prep for a planned climbing trip to Tenerife, as I felt I could climb more delicately and avoid pulling hard. However, the climbing holiday itself turned out to be more physical than I’d imagined and this was the nail in the coffin for my wrist for a while. This injury has stopped me climbing in my old dynamic ‘gung-ho’ style, especially with regard to bouldering, plus I’ve definitely noticed a difference in strength and confidence. It’s been frustrating but being pain-free now is worth it!
What would you recommend to other people if they experience the same difficulties you’ve experienced?
REST! Rest up and learn the guitar or something! I did some more painting again and found a renewed interest in some of my other hobbies.
Do you have any health issues or disabilities?
Currently I’m happy and well, with no real niggles to complain about. However I will listen to my body more now, my job and my hobbies mean it gets a lot of wear and tear so I have to remind myself to slow down on occasion.
How does climbing fit in to your life?
I live within 10 minutes of some very accessible crags (the slate quarries in Dinorwic) and within an hour of most of North Wales’ finest rock climbs! So I can easily fit in a post-work blast, plus my local climbing walls are within 15 minutes of my house for when it’s raining.
Do you work and how does this affect or link in with climbing?
My work is linked closely to my climbing, but doesn’t take the shine off my own personal development. I don’t get bored, as the type of climbing work I do is very different to the stuff I get up to in my own time.
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