When I first moved to London, all the way back in 2011, I did what everyone else around me was doing. I put the hours into my career, I went out drinking with friends, I got a gym membership. Three years and a failed relationship later, I knew something had to change.
This city can suck you into its relentless rhythm and make you give up your hobbies and passions in favour of a gruelling daily commute, boozy corporate events, and aimless weekends trying to sleep off the hangover and exhaustion.
At first, it is exhilarating. Then it becomes draining. And then everything starts to fall apart and you just want out.
This is how I got into climbing.
I had tried climbing indoors years ago with my brother, while still at uni, and I even went regularly with him during a brief three-month stint living in Germany, but it never really stuck.
During my uni days, drinking and partying took up too much of our free time to get serious about a sport. This continued when I moved to London and started working as a financial journalist – one of the few professions that involves more drinking and partying than university life (and it is all paid for with corporate money)!
But it never felt comfortable. I always sensed something was missing, something that would make my eyes sparkle, instead of just stinging from staring at a computer all day. I felt like I didn’t have much to say for myself, apart from complaining about how I had had far too much free champagne at a work event, again. First world problems, I know!
It took a painful breakup to give me the impetus to finally change something. By this point, I had discovered the mood-lifting qualities of physical exercise, but running around on a treadmill like a hamster in a wheel just wasn’t going to cut it.
The first climbing gym we went to was West One near Baker Street (read my review here), and it will always have a special place in my heart for giving me that climbing bug.
From my first tentative moves on the indoor holds I was finally, and instantly, hooked. I loved the height, the feeling of fighting up a hard route, and the adrenaline rush of narrowly missing a fall, despite being on a top rope (and therefore in no danger of hurting myself). I loved the atmosphere, the people that chose to spend their evenings here instead of drinking in a noisy bar. I felt the sense of purpose and belonging that I had been missing so much.
After that initial visit, I was determined to make the commitment to go once a week, and I stuck with it.
What I didn’t know back then was that this sport would sort of take over my life. I didn’t expect that a year later I would be going three times a week and still not feeling like it’s enough.
I didn’t know that the following summer I would spend most of my weekends camping by the sandstone outcrops in Kent, sweating my way up steep approaches to multi-pitch routes in the Wye Valley, and getting lost on a mountain in Italy’s Como region in search of a climbing crag.
Through climbing, I have met people that I now consider to be some of my closest friends. I got fitter and realised I don’t need to go out and get drunk to have a good time (who knew?!). In fact, I learned this would hinder my climbing performance the day after, so it’s not worth it.
I have already learnt so much about pushing the limits of a human body and, more importantly, the human mind. And this is just the very beginning.
And above all, I got back that sparkle in my eyes. Even my mum says so, and she is convinced I am going to kill myself climbing, so she isn’t exactly my biggest supporter.
Sometimes it takes a bit of heartbreak to discover your passion. Mine had been staring me in the face for years: as a teenager growing up in Sheffield, in the heart of the Peak District, and during my year abroad in Switzerland, surrounding by some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Thank goodness I found myself in that dark place that finally led me to it!
What got you into climbing? I would love to hear your thoughts!