Last month was my start to the trad season. It was a really sunny day, so a few friends and I went across to Hawkcraig. We forgot just how windy it can be there though, so although Edinburgh was lovely, we had a few very chilly climbs. My first lead of the year was Pain Pillar, an exposed VS. Although that isn’t an extremely hard grade technically for me, it was great for my confidence, as, although I have been climbing for a while, I sometimes find it hard to push myself outdoors. I have been climbing for a total of 10 years, and although I’ve only been climbing outside for the majority of this time, the level I climb at didn’t really increase until last year.
Until last year, I was a VS climber on a good day, if the route suited me and I was feeling psyched. Last year, I went on some trips and talked to some people who helped me see that my indoor grade and trad grade do not match up and I should be leading a lot harder. I managed to lead a few E1s by the end of the year, but I still feel like I could be a lot more confident on rock.
I have been trying to climb harder partly because I like to challenge myself, but it is also because being able to climb harder routes opens up so many more possibilities. There are crags where the easiest climb is VS, so if that is your limit these crags are essentially closed to you. One of these crags is the amazing Etive Slabs. I went there last year and climbed Spartan Slabs, which, at VS, is the easiest route there. It was an amazing climb, with lovely balancey moves and a really interesting overlap. The only problem was that I didn’t feel confident to lead anything else there. So this year I am continuing my journey to become a climbing legend (at least in my own mind) so I can go back there (and other places!) to climb some lovely hard lines.
One conversation had that helped me along my climbing journey was with someone at the climbing wall who had seen me climbing and was amazed that I didn’t climb harder on rock. He heard that I had recently led HVS for the first time and promptly suggested a list of E1s for me to try. He is someone that I didn’t know very well, but has a lot of experience climbing and guiding, so I knew he wasn’t just saying it to make me feel good. One of the climbs on his list was my first E1 a few months after that conversation.
Something else that spurred me on was going to the Women’s International Climbing Meet last summer. I went as a UK host for the full week and met lots of women who climb from around the world and the UK. It was extremely inspiring to see everyone climbing really well. It reminded me that there was no reason for me not to climb hard if I want to. It was also interesting how well I climbed with people who I didn’t know as opposed to people I climb with all the time. With my regular climbing partner, we are in the habit of him climbing harder routes or pitches and me doing easier routes. I think I subconsciously don’t try as hard, since I don’t think I am as good a climber (although my technique might be better). He also tries hard routes of a different style than I might choose, so when I find them hard, I sometimes assume that they are hard because of the grade, not because of the style. On the other hand, when I climb with people I don’t know, I tend to try harder, as there is no reason that they should be automatically better at climbing than me.
I think my main barrier to climbing harder outside is not wanting to fall off. This is partly because I really hurt my ankle a few years ago falling off the top of a boulder. I had mats and spotters and I still managed to injure my ankle in a way that has never fully healed. Although I know that that is not the normal outcome of falling off (especially when you are attached to a rope), it knocked my confidence to try moves that I don’t know for certain that I will be able to make.
This is especially annoying when I’m bouldering, especially when there is no top-out, as I don’t want to commit to even moves I know I can do , since I’d have to climb or jump down. I reminded myself that this was something I have to work on during a recent trip to Wolfcrag. I went with two other people, a dog and one bouldering mat, so even if the problems hadn’t been massively highball (they are massively highball), it might have been a scary place for the first outdoor bouldering session of the year. I tried the bottom half of lots of problems, but in the end I managed to get to the top of two problems (although one was a traverse, so the falling aspect wasn’t an issue…).
Now that I have identified some of the issues with my climbing, I’m hoping to work on them this year. I have already made some awesome progress on my most recent bouldering trip, this time to Fontainebleau in France, managing to top out on a few highballs and climbing the hardest grade I have climbed so far. Let’s see how it goes from here!
– Emma Fairlie
I’m a climbing instructor based in Edinburgh. I got my SPA last year and work indoors and outdoors, as well as organising women’s climbing events in my spare time. I love working outdoors as I can combine my love of adventure sports and the environment, and I get to share my enthusiasm with others. I especially enjoy climbing because of the range of skills it involves, from strength and technique, through to problem solving.
As well as climbing, I love mountain biking and canoeing. I have my three star in open boats, but I’m hoping to get more qualifications so I can work in a wider range of settings.