I have been rock climbing a couple of times when I was younger, however never bouldering. My sister and her boyfriend have recently got into the activity through a group of friends; they now go most weekends as a social group. When I visited them in Norwich last week, they were exited to take me along to try it out for myself.
We went to Highball Climbing Centre, which is an adult training facility. It definitely has a family friendly atmosphere throughout the space. I really feel that they have successfully created and provide a safe, challenging and fun environment where climbers of all ages and abilities can come together to learn, improve and achieve.
It is clear that they promote health, fitness, fun and excitement with a strong focus on personal safety. I was nervous at the start with the knowledge that there are no ropes or harnesses, however the surface surrounding the walls is the texture of huge crash mats. I also didn’t realise that they constantly change, evolve, and improve their walls and climbing routes; getting professionals in to adjust and fit the walls.
They have something for everyone in the space, whether you want to climb for fun, fitness, or take it a bit more seriously – there are competition walls. We went with a group of their friends to the centre, everyone was so supportive, helping each other to reach the top of the route. The morning after, I could definitely feel my arm and back muscles.
The sport requires no more equipment than a chalk bag and specialty shoes (that can be hired by the centre), it is as much about balance and gymnastic ability as it is about strength and stamina. Climbers are invited to tackle ‘routes’ on low walls, denoted by coloured ‘holds’. Each route is graded by ability, so you can chart your progression as you clamber your way around artificial features. I mainly attempted grade 1 and 2 routes with it being my first go. The grade 5 ones looked very challenging and would require practice, determination and strength.
I feel that many people use climbing facilities like these as a more social alternative to a gym, many with no intention of climbing outdoors. Compared to the gym it’s less intimidating, the team-working aspect is evident. I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent challenging myself and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I thought the best thing to do was not overthink the climbing and just go for it. I found the going up a lot easier to coming down surprisingly!
Overall, I found that it was a combination of brainwork and a physical workout. It’s also really open and lovely – I saw some people coming up to others they obviously didn’t know and helping them with their foot placement or aiding with their next move. My sister’s boyfriend is very good and is dynamic in his climbing. However I didn’t feel intimidated by this as there were so many different abilities all sharing the same facilities. I would definitely go back again when I next visit.
I also loved seeing the amount of women on the walls. The sport has a strong and growing female participation which is great to see; I find it quite inspiring.