Awesome indoor climbing for kids (and grown-ups too)
Reading Climbing Centre, Unit 33 Robert Cort Industrial Estate, Britten Rd, Reading, Berkshire RG2 0AU.
They also have centres in Harrogate and Manchester
I had always been a little intimidated by the thought of walking into my local climbing centre. It’s not the actual climbing I was worried about since I’ve done plenty of abseiling and free climbing during my time spent in the dark, potholing in Derbyshire and North Yorkshire. In my head, the indoor clubs seemed a little specialised and something that was difficult to break the surface of. Do I need hours of training? What is the climbing etiquette? Would established climbers laugh at my feeble attempts to cling on to a simple route?
How do I start?
Climbing centres will not let you climb unless you are ‘signed-off’ to climb, or escorted by someone who is already signed off. To get signed off is usually just a case of taking a short test to demonstrate your competency and safety awareness. This can be quickly mastered with beginners courses. It normally also involves joining the club for a small one off fee so that they can issue you with a membership card and get your details on their computer. This also gives you access to offers on the pay-per-climb costs so joining the club can make things cheaper.
One lunchtime, a couple of guys at work, who had done a significant amount of climbing previously, offered to show me the ropes (no pun intended). Turns out, it’s a lot easier than I ever imagined to get going!
Belaying roped routes
We headed off to the Reading Climbing Centre where I initially climbed the roped routes while the guys belayed me safely up and down. A rope is looped through a carabiner at the top of the climb with the two ends dangling to the ground. I was tied on to one end and my mate held the other end, using a belay device to increase the friction so he could arrest the rope stopping me hitting the floor when I fell.
Lets cut to the chase here, your life is dependent on the person belaying you. If they get it wrong you might as well not be tied to a rope.
I don’t want to put you off since the necessary belaying skills are easy to master, BUT PLEASE, make sure you climb with qualified instructors or people you know are competent and you trust with your life. When it comes to belaying your own kids (or your friend’s kids) make sure you know what you are doing. There is no second chance.
I was keen to learn how to belay and climb safely. The Reading Climbing Centre offer a group beginners climbing course spread over a number of weeks. I would struggle to find time to do three weekly sessions, each a few hours long so I negotiated a some one-on-one sessions with a friendly instructor during the quieter times of the day. This was more expensive but the benefits of individual training are worth it. The sessions quickly got me to a competent level and the centre signed me off to climb and belay others. I then continued to climb and belay for my grown up pals for three months before belaying my kids for the first time.
Bouldering walls don’t have ropes and you don’t need any equipment. They are usually less than 20 feet in height and have a crash-mat floor. When you look at the wall it appears to be a random selection of multi-coloured holds, but this is so far from reality. Each route has been meticulously placed, with holds of a single colour showing you the way up. The colour of the route normally indicates the degree of difficulty, ranging from really easy to ultra-hard requiring spider-like skills.
My kids like to have a go on the bouldering wall after a session on the ropes. It’s good practice for them but not quite as safe. When they are on the roped routes there is no way they will hit the floor. The worse that they have suffered is a bumped knee or a scraped elbow on a hold. When they are bouldering there is the possibility they can fall from a height and hit the mat.
There is a ‘spotting technique’ that is used when people use the boulder walls. The ‘spotter’ is there not to catch a falling climber. He is there to make sure the climber lands safely on the mat, hopefully feet first avoiding landing on the back, neck or head. Knowing how to ‘spot’ your child on the bouldering wall is essential. I always spot my kids when bouldering, 100% of the time.
What do I need to buy?
Initially you don’t have to spend money on any equipment. You can usually hire all that you need from the climbing centre. For the roped routes you will need a harness. Climbing shoes help significantly but my kids normally use just their trainers or a pair of gym plimsolls. Once you are belaying you need a few extra bits and pieces of metal work but even these can be hired.
I bought full kids harnesses since it helps keep them up-right as the anchor points are on the chest as apposed to the waist on the standard harness. They will grow out of the full kids harness by the time they are 11 or 12 but by this time their centre of gravity has lowered and they are usually more confident. Ask the climbing centre for advice if you are not sure.
Most centres now run kids parties where the children get a great chance to experience climbing in a fun, safe environment with friends. Convince your boys and girls to do this on their next birthday and you won’t look back. It might just get the whole family starting on a new adventure.
Where to climb
There are many centres dotted around the UK these days. Our usual haunt is Reading but we have also used the affiliate centre at Harrogate. Google ‘indoor climbing wall’ and you can find your local venue.
What about food?
They don’t leave you hanging on the food and drink front. Reading and Harrogate both have cafes. I’ve had some great home-cooked hot meals at Reading. They also do superb cake, coffee and hot chocolate.