Part 1: Couch to crag
Rock Climbing outdoors is incredibly exciting and rewarding, and logistically-speaking there’s a little more to it than climbing at a purpose-built climbing wall. Working out where you’re going and how you’re getting there are good starting points, but there are loads of extra things you can do to ensure a safe and enjoyable day out.
Here are a few tips for preparing for the crag to help you make those first steps into the outdoors.
Get the topo
In climbing, a ‘topo’ (topographical map) is a drawing/photograph of the crag with routes depicted, graded and described.
You can access some topos online, but the most comprehensive information tends to come in the form of guidebooks. There are a range of different publishers: The BMC (British Mountaineering Council) and Climbers Club guides are comprehensive and climbing sector specific (eg. Stanage), whereas Rockfax guides are selective and give a general overview of the area (the Eastern Peak District). Guidebooks can quickly go out of date, so check the internet for updates to crag access and safety information (we’ll get onto those resources later).
Check the weather
Your topo should tell you what direction the crag faces, when it gets the sun, whether it suffers seepage and how sheltered it is. This will help you to determine the best spot for the weather. Here are some things to bear in mind:
- How has the weather been the past few days? It may not be raining now, but recent rain or melting ice on higher ground may mean that water is seeping down the rock at certain crags. Some rock – such as soft sandstone – is easily eroded after wet weather.
- Certain temperatures are good for certain rock types. On hot, humid day you might avoid smeary, slopey rock (such as gritstone) in favour of rock types that are less friction dependent (slate or limestone).
- Wind speed and direction may affect your decision: look for sheltered crags if you want to avoid the wind on cold, blustery days. If you want to avoid the midges, avoid midge hotspots on still days.
- Popular crags are best avoided on sunny days (especially bank holidays); if you’re after some peace and quiet, esoteric crags are a good option on busy days.
Guidebooks and topos give you comprehensive information about the crag up until the date their published, but access to crags can quickly change due to anything from nesting birds, disputes with landowners or successful BMC campaigns for open access.
Always check the BMC Regional Access Database(RAD) before you head out to find out whether you can climb on a crag and how to approach it. Remember that access to many crags is a privilege, not a right; the best way to maintain this privilege is to observe access restrictions. RAD is available in app form, so you can check it on your smartphone too. And look out for notices at the crag as well.
What kind of climbing do you want to do and does the crag cater for your group’s grade range? If it’s your first time out of the climbing wall, drop your expected grade a little so to give yourself scope to get used to the style of climbing on real rock. There’s nothing worse than rocking up at the crag only to get shut down by all the routes.
How big is your group?
Going to a climbing wall with a large group of raucous friends is all well and good, but in the countryside and outdoor spaces you should consider whether the crag can accommodate large groups, in addition to any other parties climbing there. Check how many routes/boulders there are within each sector of the crag and consider visiting more esoteric venues to avoid the crowds and queues.
How are you getting there?
Often crags have limited parking and can get incredibly busy in nice weather – just try parking at Stanage on a sunny weekend! Carshare where possible (or even better – take public transport or cycle) but be prepared to have a plan B if parking really isn’t possible. If the crag is so crowded that you can’t park, chances are you’ll have a better day elsewhere anyway.
Fauna and flora
You’ve already looked at the RAD for information on bird restrictions but it’s ideal to know what else to expect when you get the crag, especially when it comes to creepy crawlies. Be prepared with insect repellent and make sure you’ve read up on Lyme Disease and how to remove ticks.
Many of our crags are also home to rare and delicate plant species, do your research so that you’re less likely to impact them.
Approaching the crag
Once you’ve parked up/got off the bus, do you know your way to the crag? Don’t count on being able to see the crag from the road and remember that map in your topo may not be what you’re used to.
Consider honing your navigation skills and maybe invest in a map and decent compass. The British Mountain Maps published by the British Mountaineering Council are excellent to use alongside your guidebook as they show the main crags in each area.
Introduction to Rock Climbing https://www.beyondtheedge.co.uk/intro-to-rock-climbing/