Learning to Climb

By Belinda Dixon

“Do one thing every day that scares you” Baz Luhrmann, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

img_0950When we (Nicola Hendy & me) started planning adventures, we saw we needed to up our skills. Here’s the start of a steep learning curve …

Fear is a funny thing. It can help you focus, spur you on, or make you freeze. But whatever way it catches at you, it tends to consume – you don’t sweat the small stuff when you’re terrified of something big. So perhaps it’s the fear factor that makes learning to climb so absorbing – and so addictive.


When your legs tremble, your forearms strain and your fingertips begin to slip there’s simply no time to worry about anything other than just trying to hang on. And fear also makes you focus, really focus – making sure a knot has been tied right becomes really, really important when it’s the thing that’ll stop you falling 16m. Double checking the gate is secured on the carabiner becomes really important when it’ll stop your climbing partner crashing to the floor. You plan a tricky route carefully when you know a bit of thought down here could save you a whole lot of trouble up there.


Just as running in a race makes you go faster, learning to climb prompts greater physical effort. No matter how much you know the rope will catch you, basic instinct means you just don’t want to fall. So you push harder, reach further and strive more – fear forces you on. You can feel the extra effort; climbing makes muscles you never even knew you had ache. And it prompts you to begin to grasp the importance of technique over strength – the sense, however hazily grasped at first, that climbing better, rather than stronger or harder, will mean fewer fear-filled moments. A huge incentive to learn more.Freezing

img_0952But sometimes the fear makes you freeze. For no apparent reason you feel you can’t reach the hold; that you won’t have enough strength. “I can’t” takes over from “I can”. But even here climbing helps you. Because when you just can’t go any higher or hold on any more you simply have to let go. So you drop a little, hang there a while and think, “so what?” You’re reminded that if that’s the worse that’ll happen there’s really not that much to fear. So you go from feeling frozen by fear to being liberated by it – it’s overcoming it that feels so good. Which is why at walls everywhere the people learning to climb are grinning, they’re excited, they’re stoked. They’re constantly channeling and overcoming their fears. And they’re beginning to love the idea that there’ll always be more challenges, more things to learn and more routes to climb.

This is a work in progress. Future plans include attempting the Dewerstone crag on Dartmoor, thanks to Visit Dartmoor.

The British Mountaineering Council is a one-stop-shop for information and events. Other great links include The Climbers’ Club, UK Climbing and Women Climb.

For inspiration, watch this fine video from This Girl Can.

Climbing walls & instruction include those run by High Sports, with walls in locations including Plymouth, Alton, Basildon, Brighton, Harrow, St Albans & Wycombe. And also at Boulders, Cardiff

See you at the top 😉 whatever the grade …

Published by Belinda Dixon

I'm a travel & adventure writer (Lonely Planet), broadcaster (BBC Radio Devon & BBC Guernsey) and the British Exploring Society's media Leader on its 2016 Himalaya expedition. I write a blog that aims to inspire adventures; deliver inspiring training and record and edit powerful oral history archives.

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