Quite frankly I did not know what I signed up for till I actually entered the building with a delicious name ‘The Biscuit Factory‘ in the south of London in Bermondsey. I knew, of course, that I was going climbing. But without ropes and harnesses? Climb up 4m up? And how am I getting down, after all?.. Well, as you can imagine, that’s how I learned what bouldering is, and before I knew it – I spent the rest of my day at the Arch Climbing Wall.
In a nutshell, bouldering is rock climbing stripped down to its raw essentials – leaving the ropes and harnesses behind, you are challenging your body and mind by going climbing 4 meters up following one of the massive 300+ short but tricky routes (called “problems” or “blocs”) created by a mix of the Arch Climbing Wall’s resident route-setters and guest setters from around the world and updated monthly to keep you on your toes (literally). The routes have different degrees of difficulty – so whether you are a complete beginner or a professional climber, you are unlikely to run out of options as there are so many. For those who aim high, there are individually set testpiece routes on the competition wall, and a training area to explore. Being one of the largest climbing facilities in the UK, the Arch Climbing Wall has 11 000 square feet of bouldering, including facilities for strength and endurance training, the Moon Board (Now the Bones Board,) a Circuit Board for endurance fitness and a 50 Degree Project Board which you create your own Boulder Problems on.
I started with a 1-hour beginner session where you learn how you should start climbing, what position to land in when you are jumping down to the padded mats, how to switch feet while on the wall, as well as you get on grips with the fact that the extremely tight uncomfortable climbing shoes are meant to be just like that (think ballet ‘pointe shoes‘ for climbing) – so that you would use your toes rather than nitre foot to press against while on the wall. You then learn about different types of walls and challenges and go and try them with the instructor and practice later yourself. You might not have any energy left for that by the time you are done with the class but I strongly recommend you go around the walls and try different climbs, including hanging almost upside down like a monkey.
Contrary to the popular opinion, you don’t need to have massive biceps to go climbing and bouldering. Your core and legs is what you use most while bouldering, as well as your body balance and flexibility. So even if you haven’t done a single pull-up in your life (story of my life!), as long as you engage the rest of your body, you will have a fantastic time. And while it might not necessarily feel like that when you are on the wall, bouldering is a great workout (think core and legs again!) – and you are likely to feel the results the morning after. I was told my fingers wouldn’t let me hold anything – not even a cup of tea – I was actually fine and could feel the pleasant muscle tiredness (read ‘muscle happiness’) the next day.
Bouldering is a fun social activity – as you are no strapped to one another as you are when you are on a climbing wall, you can climb together with your friends. Though, it’s much more fun to stand on the mat when your friend is climbing and help guide them through the routes, cheer them up or simply be there if they manage to fall. 🙂 A single peak time visit is £10 and £3 for renting the shoes. And the walls are all yours!