Here’s Winter and the Indoor Season is upon us

Posted: 1st December 2009 by admin in Climbing, Sport

The air is thick with chalk dust, the rain rattling down on the roof, a small leak drips near the front door (just above the box which contains my trainers), all around there is activity, either climbers on routes, or people waiting for routes. Its busy as expected on a wet post lunch Sunday afternoon session, you are constantly keeping an eye on people above you. The cafe area is filled with the sound of a childrens party and popping balloons. Welcome to the Depot near Leeds on a typical sunday afternoon for this time of year.

This scene will be repeated in climbing walls all over the country at the exact same time. This November has been a boon for such facilities with the near constant rain keeping all but the most sheltered crags damp and driving climbers indoors. There seems to be a new wall opening every month somewhere, with Harrogate and Awesome Walls Stoke opening in the last few months. Just looking at my bank statement shows me I’m personally spending a small fortune on indoor climbing now, with at least a couple of climbing sessions a week, as a midweek session at Awesome Walls in Stockport or Leeds Wall and Sunday afternoon Bouldering at the Depot become the norm again.

At the end of the poor summer outdoor season for me, I wasn’t looking forward to moving indoors, and after a poor first month indoors I’m finally getting consistent good sessions, although my bouldering is coming on a lot more than my leading. My arm strain injury finally seems to have abated and I’m now moving onto V3 projects rather than the V1-V2 routes I’ve been stuck on for a while, and my leading head seems to be returning slowly but surely.

A climbing wall is on the surface the same wherever it is, boarding at different angles, holds, features, clips and ropes. However there can be huge differences from one to another, a crowded bouldering area can either be a pain or generate a good atmosphere according where you are. Staggering your start so the rope next to you can get some distance before you ascend, can either be a bore or an inspiration based upon the same criteria. I was at Leeds Wall a couple of weeks ago tying on for a 6a lead, when a pair just walked straight in front of us from another part of the wall, ready tied on from last lead and started on the route, jumping in front of us, me and my belayer were that surprised and left speechless. We weren’t the only ones they did this to!

Leeds is my nearest tall wall climbing centre and although the routes are good and there is plenty of variety, I find the place cold in personality. It something I can’t put my finger on to explain. Opinions on Leeds Wall seemed to be polarised on recent forum discussion, with as may defenders as critics. I’m not saying I don’t like the place, on the contrary its a great training facility, and I use it just as that, but I wouldn’t choose to go there for an afternoons social climbing with friends. Across the Pennines however is a wall which is just as big area wise, but has a totally different atmosphere, namely Awesome Walls in Stockport, its warmer put simply!. I know as many people casually in both places, but feel more welcome at Stockport. Maybe its because of the building, as one person suggested in the aforementioned forum thread, but I don’t think so myself, I used to climb at Rochdale Climb UK, before we started to find the walls too short, and it was located in an old car showroom as far as I can tell, much as Leeds Wall is located in an fairly modern warehouse building, so not much more of a salubrious location.

Awesome Walls (AWS) is located in an old 19th century factory, and admittedly it adds character to the place, but bricks don’t give the place ‘warmth’. Its more the chattiness of the people who are there which makes the difference, casual conversation seems a lot more common. I think this is down to the relative closeness of the walls compared to Leeds, where the essential large open floor space below the main lead overhang wall makes the area seem very open and empty. This leads to the rest of the routes being contained in 2 relatively tight spaces in the corner and to the right of the overhang wall, and gives the centre a slight sense of imbalance between the main areas. At AWS there is maybe slightly fewer ropes, but they are more evenly spaced and means there’s always people about, but you are not on top of each other.

However AWS’s main attraction is the 24m lead wall at the back, where even at lower grades its a damn good workout, and soon builds up wall endurance, its slightly daunting first time you do one, purely due to the height, and the rope stretch on the lower off leading to some more rapid than normal stages of decent, but its soon something you come to appreciate when you are getting 3 climbs worth in smaller centres such as Rochdale or Huddersfield in a single climb.

When it come to the social side of climbing however, you will inevitably getter a better atmosphere where you are having to be more involved with other people constantly, whether its waiting for a route or minding out for people above to you, and when bouldering this is almost a constant factor, with the nature of the activity being short bursts of action followed by a period of rest in which to socialise. The Depot gets this off to a tee, managing to maintain a cosy atmosphere with it rarely feeling crowded even when very busy, and keeping the friendly atmosphere when it is quieter. The crowd who go there are the friendliest I have found at any climbing facility, with encouragement from other users when on a route being the norm, and not just for people who are doing V7s, V8s or V9s, but for punters like me working on E2-E3 routes, and extending down to newbies doing V0s. It seems to encourage a mutual respect for other users whatever their abilities, and this only encourages people of the same thinking to attend regularly, not taking long until weekly casual conversations with the same people each week becomes routine and part of the enjoyment.

The management and staff are also an important part of the feel on the place, and again the Depot seem to have the right mix there as well, although I will admit, the floor supervision for a bouldering centre requires a different, less interventionalist style of contact with its users, due to the nature of the climbing there.

I’m sure other people will disagree with me about this!