I’ve long since marvelled at the dizzy heights scaled by my fellow WI members in life and work, but it wasn’t until a special bouldering session that I realised it’s a literal skill as well as figurative. Rock Over Climbing was the venue where a group of Manchester WI members took to the walls and left the ground behind - well, some of us did. Led by member Charlotte Stoneley, a boulderer of 18 months, and our Rock Over Climbing guide Mel, we gathered at the venue in Manchester’s Julia Street - near Strangeways Prison - on a dark, damp October night.
For the uninitiated, bouldering is rock climbing - but at Rock Over Climbing, instead of dangling off ragged precipices a la Touching The Void, it’s performed on small rock formations or artificial rock walls.
Donning leggings or trackie bottoms, we were kitted out with neat-fitting - and let’s face it, pretty uncomfortable - rock climbing shoes which are neat around the toes to offer greater stability on the wall. And that was all the equipment we needed - it’s important to note is that there are no pesky harnesses or ropes - something which I imagine might give possible adopters pause…
The first stop was the traverse wall, where Mel showed us how to take to the hand and foot holds and move horizontally along a length of around 30ft. With a maximum of about 1ft between my feet and the floor, I was pretty confident to follow after Mel showed us the way, moving sideways crab-like along the wall, and looking for the route while I travelled. We all made it to the end in one piece and celebrated our achievement, but Mel wasn’t about to let us rest, as we quickly headed down to the main climbing area.
Kitted out with crash mats and bustling with experienced boulderers, the traverse wall seemed a long way away as Mel pointed out routes which led upwards into the sky. As well as straight up-and-down, there were footholds which followed the contours of overhangs, round corners and around all sorts of dimensions. We started with the basic routes - following the easy-to-navigate colour-coded guide which Mel explained to us - and set about developing our skills on the vertical.
The climbing techniques which some members showcased were really impressive, and Mel was supportive and helpful, on-hand with advice and tips for techniques. But whilst I was dazzled by the fancy footwork which some of our members showed, I’m afraid my early enthusiasm from the traverse wall was fairly misplaced, as I struggled with the physicality of the climb. Persevering, I was really intrigued by the mental challenge of bouldering, as my head seemed wary of an unsupported climb off the ground, even just at one or two feet off the ground!
From the main hall, we moved to the Tunnel - a multicoloured map of hand and footholds which offered an opportunity to really take off. Again, there were paths which members followed up to the ceiling, or not far off. In fact, the team was a long way from looking like beginners when they finally headed back to the main hall for some final climbs.
For my part, I struggled with anything over the children’s climbs - but I do understand that practice brings the head and the body into alignment with each other, and have already been plotting my next visit! Who knows, I may join those other WI members scaling dizzy heights yet…
You can learn the basics of bouldering at Rock Over Climbing Taster sessions. They last 1 hour, with harness, shoes, and chalk hire included, and cost £15 per person. Click here to find out more
(This Ladyskillers event took place in November 2018)