I have always been fond of climbing, to some degree. From an early age I always climbed the nearest rock, tree, cliff face, or anything that looked scalable. My dad was always a great help — though never a climber himself, he had a great ability to assess risk, and taught me likewise. He never really stopped me from climbing something beyond my abilities; rather, he told me why something was too risky. My mother was the reason I climbed everything — in her day, she says she did the same. Nevertheless it is a mother’s job to worry, but fortunately (for her) that mostly wore off!
In secondary school, we were twice taken to Bewerley Park, an outdoor pursuits centre in the Yorkshire Dales. I was given a chance to climb Yorkshire gritstone for the first time! Unfortunately, my interest was to be left by the wayside until university.
In my first year at Durham, I joined the HBMC, my college climbing club. Our first meet was at Kyloe Out (left), a small crag in North Norhumberland. This was my first attempt at real roped climbing, but I threw myself at it and found that I very much enjoyed the challenges posed by the various routes.
Mainly the club focussed on indoor climbing due to the weather, so Sunderland Wall (bottom left) and occasionally Berghaus Wall in Newcastle were our main venues. Berghaus is entirely a bouldering wall, whereas Sunderland is mainly top-rope and lead climbs. The routes range from the walkable to the insane, and there is a wide variety of heights and angles to climb.
Towards the end of the first year, the HBMC AGM was held to discuss the continuation of the club. All of the executive committee were leaving, with no-one remaining to run the club. I was effectively the only person that stood for any of the roles, and was elected President and Treasurer of the club. This was a great responsibility for me, especially since I had only been climbing for a very short time.
The first year of presidency, my second university year, was understandably slow, with very little provided for the members. Since there were no cars available, there were no outdoor meets, and the weekly trips were invariably to Berghaus. Berghaus is quite a good wall for more competent climbers, but it is definitely not the place to teach new ones. Also, there was no chance to teach anyone about roped climbing, so it seemed our services were not required!
In my third year, however, we managed to get transport and expert assistance from an old member. We got a much better response from the freshers, and organised taster sessions to Sunderland to train them up. We also decided to spend some of the club’s grant on some new equipment. I also bought some gear of my own, as some outdoor climbing over summer had left me wanting/needing it!
Over the course of the year, we consistently managed to get 2 cars full to Sunderland each week. We also managed to get an outdoor trip to Slipstones near Masham. For more information on this trip, you can view the pictures.
In October, our fourth and final year of both the university and the club, a great number of people showed an interest at the freshers’ fair, and a couple of sessions were organised, both to Sunderland and Berghaus.
It took over three years, but by mid-November I nailed the Berghaus route that had daunted me since the beginning! The Leap of Faith™ is a formidable leap from a free-standing boulder to a section of the main wall. Thankfully I brought my camera along, so you can view my attempt, along with some other routes from the same afternoon.
In March, we went to an outdoor man-made bouldering park near Hartlepool called Summerhill. Eight free-standing boulders have been formed from concrete and pose a number of challenges ranging up to 6b. For more information on this trip, you can view the pictures.