Tag Archives: rock climbing

Almscliff Adventures: Begginners guide to Rock Climbing

 Almscliff crag walk

Almscliff Crag is located between the verdant green sloping hills of Harrogate and the bustling city of Leeds, and protrudes on top of a small hill. Made of Millstone grit, it optimizes the hardiness of the great Yorkshire people- tough and gritty is most certainly the way up North! It was formed out of the destruction of the surrounding softer and more fragile shale and mudstone strata, which left this hardier famous landmark which is extremely popular with walkers and climbers alike. I headed up with the Leeds University Mountaineering society (Climbing) to try out my first outdoor climb, having had several indoor and seemingly difficult routes indoors at the Depot (Pudsey) and The Edge (Leeds). I could only really manage the Blues and Black holds at that point, so wasn’t too sure what to expect on an outdoor trip! But I was rearing to go and try it out.

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Beautiful views of Otley and the Chevin from the top of the Almscliff crag.

Ed and Dan were my teachers and were incredibly patient with my incompetent movements that resembled a seagull with broken wings that had been coated with tar… rather flailing!

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But you learn fast, it literally is a steep learning curve, with all the different names for pieces of kit, it can be a bit overwhelming! Firstly, rock climbing involves two people or a small group including the use of ropes which can either be done indoors at a local climbing centre OR outdoors. Other types of climbing without ropes involves bouldering where crash mats are places strategically in order to prevent any accidents. This is usually done in indoor centres without rope as the crash mats provide sufficient padding to cushion a fall whilst you build up your strength and stamina, to prepare you for an outdoor climb. You can use ropes indoors where another person is strapped into a harness and tied up whilst one person belays you- basically pulling up the slack rope as you climb ever higher and ready to catch you if you slip and fall. The different types of climbing are:

# 1 Traditional (or trad if you want to sound cool and mingle with climbers, ALWAYS use colloquial language to get in with the climbers!). This is where one climber will “lead” up along the rock face and place in all the bolts, cams and screws through which the rope will be placed through. This not only keeps the lead and first climber safe but allows the second climber to follow. Then at the top an anchor is built and three ropes are attached with into the rock with hexes (you will see why, they resemble hexagonal metal pieces) and then attach yourself to them by the rope with a special type of knot know as a clove hitch. The second climber will follow up after the first has yelled “OFF BELAY, FREE TO CLIMB” and they have secured the ropes up at the top. The second climber will also remove the gear as they progress.

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(Left) Your nuts, bolts, cams and clip ons to keep you safe! All of this should be provided with your climbing society. (Bottom) Nick Belaying Fergus, (Bottom Right) Nick being lowered by the belayer, Ed who is at the top.

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# 2 Sport climbing is where climbers clip onto already placed bolts that are securely fixed into the rock for people to ascend. This is the much easier and quick way to climb, but not as exciting as leading a climb.

#3 Soloing is where climbers will ascend under their own steam without any rope and by themselves, DON’T TRY THIS FIRST!! It can be very risky going it alone, so make sure you have many months of experience before you try this out. Ed, (see below) has done this for years and so is experienced enough to know the risks.

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Ed soloing it up the Chimney

#3 Ice climbing involves, as the name suggests, ice or snow with use of particular equipment such as ice picks (who doesn’t want those awesome looking pick axes?) as well as crampons, boots, thermals, rope and harness. This isn’t for the faint hearted, not only are the cold conditions tough, but the technique is better off perfected indoors before you go out there, but it looks beautiful.

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# 4 Competition climbing is more competitive climbing primarily done indoors in climbing walls, check out these amazing videos of insanely good comp climbers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qk-lNsRtwQ

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# 5 Bouldering is as I mentioned earlier without ropes, and is frequently performed indoors with different coloured holds which indicates their level of difficulty. Hand Jamming, crimps are all part of the technical lingo…watch out for the Climbers chat guide coming soon!

IMG_5325Here is Fergus Bouldering up Manhorn…quite a long way down so crash mats were used! I was going to do this but then again….

Here are the essential basics to Traditional climbing:

#1: Belay Kit– can be bought in many outdoor stores, I personally bought mine at GO Outdoors as you can get a £5 discount card which will save you a whole load, and my gorgeous black and orange harness as well as purple screw gate (to clip rope through) and orange belay device (where the climbers rope is threaded through and to control the climbers ascent/descent). This will usually set you back £50 with all of the above and a chalk bag for when you get sweaty palms! If you have a bit more cash to splash, you could probably get a harness for £46 alone then buy the rest of the gear separately. Check this Climbex one similar to the one I got on Go Outdoors.co.uk:

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http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/climb-x-pilot-harness-set-p194186

#2 Climbing shoes- I can’t stress how IMPORTANT SHOES are… always get a size above your normal shoes size, as they can be quite tight! It is supposed to be just uncomfortable so that you can really grip the rock face and have the friction to push up against gravity and the wall. Also you want them to be super comfy!

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/climb-x-crux-climbing-shoe-p194484

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#3 Chalk– is placed into you bag and attached to the back of your harness, used to stop those sweaty palms of yours when you’re up high from sweating up and losing grip!

The cheapest and best way to start climbing is to join your local university club and pay the membership there: your covered for insurance purposes and can borrow all the gear for a small £30 a year…think how much you will be saving if you don’t have to buy all that rope, harness, shoes, cams, nuts, clip ons, ect!

It’s also a great way to make friends and get shown how to climb with a good technique. Most members would have been doing this sport for some time and are experienced. So don’t splash your cash on all these fancy pancy climbing courses all the time- although I learnt how to belay at the edge for £25, I could have learnt the exact same thing with the climbing society showing me. I did my first outdoor climb with them too.

IMG_0640Me checking out my harness, belay device and screw gate.

So back to Almscliff! Classic climbs include the Chimney which is categoriesd as very difficult and Wall of Horrors. But as a beginner I would highly recommend doing Stewpot and Easy man– I am seen here doing Stewpot, which I also led a climb for. The rock is lovely and firm here which is reassuring, but it really makes you move your body in a way that makes you a more cautious and perceptive person. You need to be aware of where you’re placing your feet at all times…if you get a bad foothold then finding an equally dodgy handhold is of no significance.

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TRUST in your strong powerful legs and push up always from them and straighten your body right from your feet, all the way through your legs, through your core and UP you go! Onto the next hand hold. I must say, when I first started climbing, I had my doubts whether or not I could do it. My arms are like spindly gibbon arms, not much muscle at all! My legs are strong with all the cardio I do, and I was assured that it’s your LEGS that are the key to climbing. Whilst climbing Stewpot, in one of the cracks my friend shouted out that he saw a bat! I had to come up as I must say I didn’t initially believe him! But indeed there was a small wrinkled up Pipestrelle, sat snuggly between the cracks. We wondered if he was dead but he stirred as soon as we took a photo of him. Hope he was alright. You need a special license to handle them so it’s best that we left it alone. One then route had been led for me and it was safe for me to climb, I tied up my harness and headed up.

It was a gorgeous warm and sunny day. 25ᵒC-perfect for climbing the warm baked rocks of Almscliff crag. The scenery is truly spectacular up there. You can see why it’s a popular haunt with climbers, ramblers, boulderers, painters and walkers. Prior to joining the group, on my way up from the side car park, I wandered the crag to get a couple of panorama shots, and found a whole host of insect wildlife there. Swallows dart up and down catching their ready packed meals that are equally agile and astute on the wing- talk about fast food!

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My climbing friends tried the much harder Chimney, and Nick and Fergus gritted their teeth, and push and pulled harder to get to the top after attempts to get past the notoriously difficult mid slab of millstone rock- gravity ALWAYS wins. Funnily enough as I am writing this I just watched the film Gravity last night, brilliantly composed and shot, but a rather pessimistic film! Its unnerving to see your climbing buddies take a fall, even when attached to rope that can take the weight of a ton. We shout out support down at the bottom to help spur them on.

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The sun was beginning to slide further down the clouds, providing the perfect opportunity for me to get a silhouetted head shot and create a double exposure- check it out!I was very happy with the results after a tinkle on Photoshop CS3, I will be posting up a video tutorial on how to do it shortly. I hereby name it “Fergus and the Ferns!” after the plant I used to create it and the guy posing for it!

fergus tree copy before crop

After a long and gorgeous afternoon of climbing and photography, it couldn’t have ended more perfectly. I OFFICIALLY have the climbers bug, despite the climbers calluses and cramps in your toes after wearing the tiny shoes, climbing really makes you feel alive and brings out the best in your abilities- it MAKES you have to believe and trust in your judgment and work as a team to help them through the climb.

“Nothing beats that feeling when you get your hand at the top of that rock…”

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July 16th Benahavis , Marbella

WOW! Today saw the most incredible river gorge system and had an amazing time at Benahavis, situated just 3 miles, beyond the glitz and glamour of the popular tourist and celebrity resort city of Marbella. Benahavis is a Spanish mountain village situated between Marbella, Estepona, and Ronda, approximately seven kilometres from the coast. It is dotted by an impressive 9 out of the 60 golf courses in the Costa Del Sol and is renowned for its restaurants, it is often called the dining room of the Costa del Sol. On the southern face of La Serrania de Ronda mountain range, Benahavis is one of the most mountainous villages on the western Costa del Sol. Situated near the resort beaches as well as the spectacular mountains of the Serrania de Ronda, its terrain is traversed by the rivers Guadalmina, Guadaiza, and Guadalmansa. It is place of great natural and historic beauty, such as El Cerro del Duque, Daidin, and the Montemayor Castle.

The town itself is surrounded by natural parkland, and retains a typical sleepy Spanish “pueblo” feel. La Zagaleta, an exclusive gated residential estate and country club overlooking the village, lies within its municipal boundaries, and contributes to Benahavis’ status as the richest municipality per capita in Andalucía, which is also clear from the rather luxuriant cars that cruised past us. In recent years there has been extended development of the village and the surrounding area with many hundreds of dwellings being built, not only reducing the percentage of local inhabitants, but also despoiling some of the beautiful landscapes in the mountains and approaches to the village.

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We arrived at 1pm at the car park to a stunning view of the mountain crags and cliffs, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures reaching 36 degrees; a climbers dream world. As we made our way down to the start of the trail, quite a few locals had beaten us to the large river pools that populated the valley gorge, many of which can be jumped into from great heights from the cliff edges. So we thought we would get stuck in too! A smallish jump of 5 metres to start off with into the turquoise waters of the river Guadalmina was a very refreshing and exciting way to start. I took my trainers off, rather disconcerted by the chance of them dragging me down a bit when I jumped in. Gosh, what a refreshing feeling that was to jump into such cool, clear waters after the short walk up to it. We then wanted to further pursue the trail down the river but were stopped in our tracks due a bridge being built overhead, and we were told that it would open up again later in the week or next day, so a rather vague answer. Nevertheless, we went back up and decided to pluck up the courage to jump off the 10metre cliff into the river pool! I was genuinely excited about it, although daunting at first, it was so much fun feeling the freedom of doing it, I can’t describe it! Truly euphoric.

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We all video recorded it with an underwater Olympus camera, will post up a link to it here soon. I jumped twice in the end! As we walked back up the car, we noticed that the red tape had been removed, and presumed that the bridge had been put up. So we refreshed ourselves and headed back up, after the girls flirted with some rather fit looking passer-byes, of course I was much too embarrassed to participate! I then jumped off the larger cliff edge for another thrill before we headed downstream. Many fish populated the large pools of water as well as the main river itself, and were busy avoid our clumsily placed feet. Emma remarked how amazingly good our ancestors would have been good at navigating the river with ease and being able to stalk their prey with subtle movements. We quite fancied the idea of ancestral Homo erectus picking their way through the same pathways, many thousands of years ago. The sight was amazing as we carefully picked are way downstream, hundreds of mating dragonflies danced in unison with their partners and they mated in mid-aid, such a delicate ritual and myriad of colour. Blue, black, fuchsia and emerald green filled the air like sheening confetti. This rather large one pictured below was dead unfortunately after its mating orgy, male dragonflies with compete with other males to mate with as many females as possible before dying.

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One part of the river revealed a mangrove-like back setting that was truly stunning. Couldn’t resist having a photo!

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We eventually got to a more enclosed cave-like part of the river gorge that was far more quiet and serene. We were all so excited to be seeing such beauty and found it thrilling in plunging into the deep darker waters. As we swam the rock formations above us were deeply grooved and shaped by water percolating through it, dripping on our heads which was a welcoming refreshing drink.

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Like the scene from 172 days! Don’t fall on us rock!

The water itself was again a deep turquoise/green colour and was welcomingly warm. Every time we rounded the corner new, stunning sights met us, and the views of the high La Serrania de Ronda mountain range, dotted with pine trees and scree slopes, contrasting against the deep blue sky-perfect weather. I sure did get a good tan that day! One of the pools looked like the scene from a Georgio Armani perfume photo shoot, was too tempting to ask someone to do a pose and throw their hair back! Lots of swimming, many “oh my gosh isn’t it beautiful’s” and many photos. We eventually reached the dam and soaked up the warmth from the sun at the top/ The bridge had literally just been put up and was not yet open to the public, but nevertheless, was up there and had enabled us to have the most incredibly fun afternoon.

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During the late 1990s, the Junta de Andalucía constructed a dam on the site of an old marble quarry, and now for much of the year the once ever-flowing Río Guadalmina is merely a dried-up river bed, but not here! Who would have thought that this tiny secluded little gorge, hidden from the “costa del sol” tourists would have been literally an hours drive from where I live? I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Southern Spain to go and visit it, its free and fun! It’s a bit tricky to get to, but there is plenty of parking and the walk to it is only 5 minutes. I will post up a map for you to follow, but its probably best to punch in the poscode to the town, then follow the bridge over towards the La Serrania de Ronda mountain range.

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Here is a 1:25000 map as promised, enjoy your adventures!

mapa benahavis