Project: Training Wall MkII

In August 2018 we made the (currently questionable) decision to move to Leicester for a new set of jobs. Part of our agreement was that we should rent a 2 bed house, and that the larger room be turned into a training room in lieu of access to a wealth of London climbing gyms.

Having built a small board back at my parent’s house a few years ago (inflicting untold stress on them by drilling ruddy great holes in the the walls) I was obviously the pro, and relished the challenge to mangineer a new training board.

The requirements were as follows:

  • Free standing – tick
  • Under £200 – tick (already owned holds and beastmakers)
  • Big enough to actually be usable – tick

I had the idea and raided Wickes for 18mm ply and 4m beams, and got to work. Times like those are when I’m so glad to own an estate
I planned for this to be a very simple build with minimal cutting, I’ve not got any power tools other than an impact driver so sawing is a hassle. A simple build is actually what I got!

A large square composed of 8 610x1220mm ply panels screwed onto a lattice of 45x70x2400mm and 45x145x2400 C16 timber beams set at 20 degrees (for now) and suitably supported. I then extended the right side perpendicular to the board to facilitate hanging both BeastMaker 1000 and 2000 fingerboards complete with pulley set up. KTX Silver M5.0 50mm and 120mm screws were used – good enough for most climbing centres, good enough for me!

The Core Screw-On board footholds are excellent and force the accurate footwork required for hard climbing, it certainly takes a bit of getting used to; an aggressive pair of Scarpa Instinct slippers help.

Being a furnished house we had a spare double mattress once we’d disassembled the bed to make space, perfect pad for the training board.

The hold selection is a random assortment from Surrey Summit so if any lovely hold manufacturer wants to lavish us with gifts please feel free – we’ll advertise the hell out of you!
We just need some free weights and we’ll be fully set to get stronger and starting achieving our goals.

The ‘I can’t do it’ Generation

Now then. I know I’m not really old enough to start moaning about today’s generation of young people, but an argument and culture shift needs to happen before society grinds to a halt because one too many youngsters cry “I can’t do it!”.

Everyone has an element in life where they groan/shout/cry this phrase; for me it’s maths – scraped a C at GCSE level and swiftly dropped it quicker than I could shout “I don’t give a s*** about finding x!”. I know I’m not alone in my dislike for the mathematical arts.

Working as a Climbing Instructor I am confronted daily with this particular whine and it genuinely irritates me. A young person of any age may start climbing the easiest of routes in the centre, get a meter off the floor, look at me and proclaim that they simply cannot do it, and they now want to come down.
The first thing I respond with is “Nope”, followed by “Keep going”.
The look on the majority of young people’s faces are priceless; it’s the “What do you mean no?!” look, we all know that look.

I say no every single time a young person, or adult, tells me that they want to come down the first time not because I’m a mean instructor, but because I genuinely know that they can keep going. I will talk to them, demonstrate the exact climbing technique whilst on the floor that the climber needs to utilise in order to reach that next hold and just generally encourage them to get on with it. It’s always a source of entertainment when I, or a colleague is demonstrating techniques on the floor to a climber, better dance moves have yet to be seen in the likes of Popworld!

The holding power of a young person is incredible: Again, all this demonstrating and encouraging and they will hold the same static position for upwards of 10 minutes. I keep saying that they can better use all that energy they’re wasting by just getting on with it, and still they remain glued to the wall. A few moves are made with zero progress: a hand is moved up, a foot is moved down, a hold is tickled but not held, legs are straightened, legs are bent, they move left or right and back again.

Most climbers will at least try what I have asked of them, and most of those who do indeed get further even if it is just by a single hold, once they have done this single move some continue up the wall, others come down with a little smile of achievement. But others simply will not try and here is where my gripe lies.

I can demo, discuss, demand and encourage until I’m blue in the face but that small, but growing, percentage of climbers will not even try to venture higher. The never ending argument is “But how do you know you can’t do it if you haven’t tried?”, “I just can’t, let me down!”. What causes it? Fear? Laziness? A sense of entitlement? How they’re raised?

I know they’re easy targets but I think a combination of parenting style and the education system have the most to do with it. It could just be a Surrey thing. A young person can’t do something, the parent comforts them, or the teacher hasn’t the power or patience to challenge them and that’s that. When they’re suddenly confronted with an adult that says “No” it doesn’t quite compute and the concept of genuinely trying is rather foreign.

The best motivator is pitting the young person against a friend, or better yet themselves. Saying “You got further last time, go on!” is more powerful than comparing them to their friends, it can sometimes have the opposite effect. If they ignite the desire to one-up themselves then it results in a strong sense of achievement and they receive greater kudos when back on the ground “That was fantastic, look how high you got. You reached clip 6 this time, your last go you got to clip 3!”
The smile they beam is signal enough that they’re happy with their achievement, they tried. That’s all I needed them to do.

Getting a stubborn young person to try is a difficult, often tedious and repetitive task. Once they actually understand that I won’t crumble to their demands some excellent progress can be made. But until then it’s an uphill slog of dancing around on the floor, encouraging and saying “No”.

Is Your Belayer Trying to Kill You?

Now unless you’ve lost their newest bit of trad gear or run off with their spouse the answer will most likely be a no. Thankfully the vast majority of the roped climbing world is relatively switched on and can tell the difference between the dead rope, their pocket and their right nostril – places you’d most likely find their hands!

Having spent a full year working in a climbing centre environment I see bad belaying on a daily basis and it scares me, it should scare you too: Complete novices, performance squad, old boys, your mate – bad belaying can be found everywhere. It’s a rampant problem that needs sorting before more tears are shed, legs are broken and climbing careers shattered.
In the last month 3 belayers have been intercepted by myself or a colleague and the climber given an ear bending for attempting to have a novice belayer (first time ever in a climbing centre) keep them safe on the wall – this is after strictly being told that they cannot belay without supervision.

First and foremost if you are bringing a first timer to a climbing centre or outdoor venue you are not allowed to have them belay you unsupervised. They are first timers and will probably have no idea what you’re talking about. In all good judgement you can not put your life in their hands; regardless of how good a climber you are, if you fall they probably won’t catch you.

A common reply, accompanied with an almost offended look, is simply “But I’ve always belayed like this” or “Don’t worry mate, I’ve never dropped anyone“. What, you’ve always belayed without actually holding the dead rope in the locked-off position? Or always held the rope with the lightest of thumb and index finger ‘fairy pinches’? Poor form Mr/Mrs belayer. Poor form. In climbing instruction we work in what ifs – You may be fine now, but what if…?

My teaching style for belaying is through this rhyme:
Eye
To the Thigh
1
2
3
(Count in German to make it rhyme!)

The reason I teach this way is because with the usual V-Knee-1-2-3 I find that most belayers end up bobbing up and down as they belay, constantly touching their knee with the dead rope hand. Highly amusing for me, but complete waste of energy!

There are plenty of other iterations of the rhyme; V, Knee, 123 – Up, Down, Left Right Left – etc. but they’re all describing the same movement. Starting in the neutral position where the dead rope (DR) hand is at hip level and live rope (LR) hand  is at chest level, the DR hand comes up to form a V shape in the air pulling through approximately a foot of rope, the DR hand brings the rope down into the locked off position, LR hand comes down above the DR hand, DR hand now goes above the LR hand, LR hand goes back to the live rope, repeat until climber reaches the top. Using this routine there is always a hand on the dead rope and the rope is in the locked off position the majority of the time ready to catch any falls. It is worth noting that this method is suited to modern friction plate devices such as the Petzl Verso and DMM Bug, and not italian hitches or belaying in ‘guide mode’.

Safety offences I’ve called people out on include:

  • DR hand left in the V position
    • Dangerous because should the climber fall the dead rope will likely pull through the belay device, pinching the DR hand in the device resulting in a release of the rope.
  • Fairy Pinches
    • I call these fairy pinches – instead of nice firm grabs on both DR and LR the belayer simply pinches the rope with the lightest of touches. This won’t catch a lean 15 year old, let alone a 45 year old!
    • Most often seen on the ‘1’ of V, Knee, 123.
  • Releasing the Dead Rope
    • It’s called a dead rope for a reason – I know it’s named for passing the live rope through the belay device and so no longer holding the climber and thus being ‘dead rope’ – If you’re not holding it and your climber takes a fall then bad things generally happen.
    • Most common offence with belayers using a Petzl GRIGRI – Note it’s an assisted braking device, not an auto-locking device. There should always be a hand on the DR just as any other device.
    • A common occurrence whilst lead belaying. The DR is even more important in leading!
  • Excess slack in the system/Too slow
    • Risky but can be dangerous. The belayer can fumble in the slack rope and miss the DR. All that needs doing is tell the climber to slow down.
  • Not Paying Attention
    • As a belayer you are incharge of another person’s life. Don’t zone out by deeply talking to those around you or gawk at the guy that just cruised up that 8a on the competition wall.
    • Texting whilst belaying is an absolute no. Just…..no.

Climbing is an amazing sport that everyone should fully embrace, or at least give a go. It must be kept in mind that while the sport is becoming increasingly accessible through the rise of indoor climbing centres and availability of outdoor instructors and guides, it is still classed as an extreme sport – if things go wrong, they’ll go wrong quickly and in a big way often resulting in injury or even death.

Ensure your belayer knows what they’re doing before trusting them with your life, it’s really not worth the risk!

A British stigma is to see a wrongdoing, tut and mutter about it, but not actually act on it. This is just as true in climbing as it is seeing a dog walker not picking up their dog’s fresh turd. If you see something that worries you or is dangerous then tell a member of staff!

Some light reading (not so light):
BMC Belay Article
Recent Essex Belay Incident
Petzl World’s Worst Belayer
Unbelayvable
Fall Results in Broken Ribs
Acute Injury Risk and Severity in Indoor Climbing