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Top tips for cragging safely after lockdown

TCA staff members coach Roz Frugtniet and route-setter Jonny Kydd have compiled useful checklists for those venturing back out into the wild after lockdown to climb on actual rock!

We kick off with Roz: With international travel looking less and less likely, it is a good time to explore those local crags near to your front door. Living in or around Bristol we are extremely lucky, as there is so much rock right on our doorstep!

For those wanting to sport climb Brean Down and Cheddar Gorge (north and south) are just down the M5, with the latter boasting many different crags along both sides of the gorge with routes for all abilities. For those wanting to boulder, the most popular option would be Dartmoor, though the granite is a bit tough on your skin it will be a worthwhile visit for anyone! I would highly recommend driving a bit further to the North Devon coast, there are many small spots like Tintagel and Hartland that are absolutely beautiful and have amazing bouldering. Use the UKC crag finder for more info.

Since the relaxation in rules and drastic increase in sunshine, I have been lucky enough to enjoy many days out at the local crags, and for those of you itching to do the same here are my 5 top tips…

1. Be respectful

A few things may have changed since you last ventured out of the house… Remember to try and abide by social distancing rules as much as possible and if a crag is busy be prepared to move on. Additionally, due to the lack of human traffic, wildlife, especially birds may now occupy crags or be nesting near routes that they previously hadn’t. If this is the case, then avoid climbing near them. Keep updated on the UKC pages or local Facebook groups for more information. Also, remember that although relatively close to Bristol, Wales has different rules to England at the moment, so check crag information carefully.

2. Pace yourself

If you haven’t been on rock in a while, have just been training on a short home-board/fingerboard session – or if you have not done any climbing training during lockdown – then chances are your movement and head-game will be a bit rusty. Even if you are confident that your fingers are really strong, unfortunately, finger strength isn’t everything! I certainly felt like Bambi on ice the first few times I tied in and I’m a coach. Start easy, make sure you perform buddy-checks and even consider taking some safe, controlled falls to get your head back in action.

3. Leave your ego at home

It is unlikely that you’ll be hitting your PB’s straight away, even if you have been training like a beast, it usually takes some time for the body to adapt to climbing on rock again. You might find you get pumped super quickly, you don’t trust your feet and you just can’t read sequences! Don’t be put off if you can’t immediately send your pre-lockdown project, it is probably because your body is not as conditioned to climbing as it was before. I would suggest doing lots of volume and steadily increase this week on week, make a grade pyramid. For example, once you have done three 6a’s, do a 6a+, once you have done three of those move up another grade. This is not only super useful for pushing the harder grades and reducing the risk of injury, but will ease your body and mind into climbing again! Remember to breathe, relax and not overgrip – this will help you get less pumped!

4. Warm-up well

The last thing you want is to have an injury just as the sending season begins! Heart raising exercises, therabanding and easy climbing! A good warm down at the end of the day will be beneficial as well.

5. Have fun and stay safe

Don’t get stressed about grades, just enjoy being out in the sunshine!


Word to the wise

Despite having his round-the-world climbing trip of a life time cut short, route-setter Jonny Kydd has also been enjoying getting back out on local projects. He has added his own words of wisdom for newly released climbers.

1. Falling into old habits

Pre-lockdown there were lots of moments when we’d get close to our climbing buddies: looking over their shoulder whilst perusing the guidebook, looking at photos they have taken as you crush your project, sharing beta and showing each other exactly which part of your finger the little spike on the crimp leaves its mark. But in the days of social distancing these things, among many others, are a no-go. It can be very easy to revert to old habits and forget about social distancing when returning to a familiar pre-lockdown activity, such as climbing outside. It’s important to remind yourself and others about it throughout the session.

2. New to bouldering outside?

Bouldering outside is not the same as bouldering at your local wall. The holds aren’t brightly coloured and obvious where to go, they usually don’t stick out from the wall making footwork a lot trickier. The climatic conditions have a much larger impact on how feasible the climb will feel, especially as most climbs are graded for when the conditions are at their best e.g. cool, dry, in the shade. But the most important thing for first-time outdoor climbers is safety. When bouldering outside the first thing you’ll notice is that the big, flat, squishy matting that protects your landing is no longer there and you have this relatively small bit of foam to keep you safe. Figuring out how to make your landing safe is very important, especially as spotting violates social distancing rules – unless you’re with someone from your own household! The main things to consider when placing your pad are:

i) Where you’re likely to fall
ii) Covering things like tree roots or rocks that are likely to increase the risk of injury
iii) If you have multiple pads then making sure there are no gaps between the pads which your foot could slip through.

Also don’t forget to check how you get down off the boulder BEFORE before you try to climb it!!! Sometimes the easiest way down is the same way you got up it! And if you’re unsure about anything ask more experienced climbers – we were all new to it once!

3. Look after your skin

Rock tends to be sharper and more abrasive than plastic or wooden holds. You will probably find that in warm summer conditions that your skin is a bit softer, especially if you’ve only been hanging off a nice and comfy wooden fingerboard during lockdown (if at all!) and washing your hands more frequently. This probably means that your skin will be the limiting factor for your first few sessions climbing outside after lockdown. My key tips to looking after your skin are to:

i) Stop before it gets bad – the last thing you want to do is wear through your skin and wait another week before you can go climbing because you put a hole in your finger or got a big flapper.
ii) Moisturise your hands after climbing to help them repair. There are many climbing-specific hand creams that help repair and toughen up your skin. Personally I find the range of products from Rhino Skin work really well.
iii) Tape up BEFORE you cut your skin – many climbers like to tape up after they have cut their skin to prolong their session but if you know a certain climb is sharp then preemptive taping can make your session last a lot longer!

4. Protect our outdoor spaces

Many of us have come to realise during lockdown just how important outdoor spaces are and crags are no exception. We need to make an even bigger effort to minimise the impact of humans so rather than leaving it in the same state as you found it, try to leave it in a better state. An example of this is instead of just taking your litter home take ANY litter that you find home or a more climbing-specific example would be to not only to brush away your own tick marks but those that previous climbers have left on other climbs. The last thing we want is for climbers to get a bad rep coming out of lockdown, resulting in landowners revoking access to the crags.

Roz is photographed (by Tom Newberry) on Kings Edward's Wall (7c+) at Potato Head, which is local to her lockdown hideaway. Jonny is photographed on his project at Bilbins by Alex Shaw Photography. You can follow the adventures of Roz and Jonny on Instagram.


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