10 tips for a safe climbing session at the gym

A short guide for ambitious beginners

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If you believe indoor climbing is just another paid attraction you can go to unprepared, jump on and have fun – think again! This is a challenging sport so better get ready before rushing headfirst into it.

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Westway climbing wall|London’s finest #4

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Outside Westway climbing centre

Today, nearly half a century after the local authorities had to relocate two hundred west London families because of the newly built Westway elevated motorway, what makes this part of the city so appealing is the presence of what’s probably the best leading/top roping wall in the English capital. However, let’s dive “under the Westway” as the guys from Blur would say, and discover Westway sports and fitness centre, home of one of the biggest climbing venues in the city.

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A golden boy|Petar Ivanov

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Photo courtesy of Yanne Golev

Some time ago, we were watching the finals of a bouldering competition in Sofia when Petar Ivanov, the youngest among the finalists, started to flash all the boulders, making his leadership more than obvious. By that time I was already working on my “field control” concept, so I said to one of the route setters:

"Pepi controls the field today, don`t you think?"

"He doesn't control it, he is the field!" the guy answered laughing.

It was true, the dominance of this young man was undisputed.

Nine years after the nursery teacher called his parents, demanding they take care of the young tree hanging monkey`s needs, Petar Ivanov steps into the world of climbing. Today he is fifteen, a multiple European gold winner and overall champion from European Youth Bouldering Cup 2016.

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At the ridge|A comic tale of naivety and terror

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It was scary this time!

Seems funny how just few minutes ago, everything was under control and I believed nothing bad will ever happen to me. Words like those of the Italian alpinist from the previous day sounded so wondrous. What was he thinking telling me: “I can’t believe you people came here with summer clothes?” The look in his eyes – dead serious! I couldn’t understand him then, on the wall, assuming he’s somewhat dumb, a coward, or just too weak to imagine my world of endless bravery. Our plan with my partner was to run quickly through the remaining 20+ pitches of the Cassin route on Piz Badile and then rapidly descend to the tent at the beginning of the ridge. A summer storm wasn’t expected, nor was a significant temperature drop. The elements seemed friendly and we trusted them completely, no need for plan B. That was two days ago…

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Choose your project wisely

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Photo: Sava Chapanov

The so-called “Small hole” in Vratza is one of my favorite crags in Bulgaria. Beware, though, before you rush off for the weekend. You don’t go there during the summer, your affairs should be finished by the end of spring, otherwise, there’s a pretty good chance for them to remain incomplete.

The following text describes the misery I’ve been living in lately, being stuck in bad conditions at the wrong crag. After an optimistic start of the season, what I needed was some adaptation to the longer lines, some extra endurance and then – to attack my goal – clearing all the routes up to 8a+ quickly.

After I finished the first route on my plan I jumped on the second one “VTI” 8a/8a+ – thirty technical moves through a heavy overhang without any good rest. A boulder crux in the middle and another one at the very end. With a naïve approach and the egoistic intention to crush the cave in the early summer, I did all the moves by my first and second try. Now I needed to clear the sequences and bang “VTI” on my second session. But nature had different plans and poured huge amounts of rain in the next weeks. The cave was soaking wet. It wasn’t unexpected but still…

That was the beginning of the season – many possibilities in front of us. We were climbing on other crags with much better conditions but my thoughts were always with the cave. The upcoming summer heat was whispering: “no more Vratza for you.”

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Controlling the field

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Photo courtesy of Eric Perlman

What do you actually see when you watch proximity flyers gliding with top speed around trees and rocks? What makes the solo climbers look that impressive – is it the fear they might die any moment, or is it the performance itself? I doubt it. Pondering the topic, I’ve realized that I feel the same thing every time I watch racing cars furiously taking turn after turn, when I follow the precise steps of the tightrope walker balancing between the skyscrapers… Some of the best spectacles I’ve witnessed during my lifetime, things that make me feel good about humanity, are related with a phenomenon I decided to call “controlling the field.”

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A 9a David vs. Goliath Story|Matyas Luzan

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"Do what you like, do it now and with passion – fuck everything else!"

M. Luzan

If I were a sixteen moves sport route under such a dogged and sustained siege as this of Matyas Luzan from Romania I would either run and hide in the forest or surrender filled with meek adoration.

However, this is not just any route. We are talking about the legendary “Action Directe” in Frankenjura – the first recognized 9a line in the world climbed by Wolfgang Gülich in 1991. This piece of rock is still proudly standing on its place, doing anything but hiding. Seems like the only option left for our guy Matyas is to find his own way through it’s iconic limestone overhang.

His approach looks like one of those quest games where you examine unknown spaces, search for a hidden door or the proper tool in order to arrange a complicated puzzle that unlocks the gate to wonderful places of joy and satisfaction. Chatting with Matyas I realized how he understands his initiative perfectly and for almost three years he’s been walking the path to the big dream – climbing Action Directe. In a curious and intricate way, he is developing his ascent by watching videos, comparing pictures and beta schemes, training obsessively on his own AD replica, and even collecting weather data to build a chart in a search for the best conditions.

It’s a David vs. Goliath battle and our “Dave” will impress you with his extreme levels of dedication if you only do what I suggest and read the following interview.

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Dirtbag’s not dead!|Iskren “Iso” Hristov

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Dirtbag’s not dead! In fact, he’s home in Bulgaria for a while, very much alive and kicking.

Meet my unknown buddy Iskren “Iso” Hristov who has found his way to traveling, geting in touch with people and experiencing amazing things by means of climbing. A month ago he just came back from his last trip to Turkey, where he spent three months volunteering at one of the best climbing camps around Antalya.

This “dirtbag” word got quite popular in the last years and everybody is talking about them – the new beatniks, the modern hippies that seem to follow their dreams not caring about the mainstream lifestyle standards. They travel a lot, have immodest amounts of fun and even beautiful girls are seen around them. The normal holiday saving people are watching enviously, unable to understand how is it possible – having all these opportunities without being a working slave first.

Once I used to see climbers who don’t push themselves hard enough as losers. I remember adopting such stereotypes and applying them to people with different motivation like my friend Iso for example. “What a flabby piece of shit,” I was thinking…

…and I was so wrong!

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Vauxwall Climbing Centre|London’s Finest #3

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“The best place in the world. It has everything you need… I practically live here.” – Louis Parkinson

While walking around the streets or at the shopping mall for example (please, do not judge this idea too hard), you may find yourself in front of a glass wall and behind it – like in a big aquarium – strong people battle gravity. You witness a different climbing fauna and immediately are impressed – a thousand reasons make you crave trying some of the things these people do.

The picture is similar with Vauxwall Climbing Centre at the heart of London. While curiously observing the busy South Lambeth Road – only two minutes from VauxHall Station, you’ll come upon the sheeny windows and orange-blue colors of VauxWall. You will notice the occupied hosts working their stuff at the reception desk and behind them – all kinds of species: smaller and bigger fish, powerful whales showing off their fitness and slick boulder sharks swimming gracefully through their sporty entertainment in the climbing aquarium.

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The Arch Climbing Wall|London’s Finest #2

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Building One

Cruising around Bermondsey I couldn’t stop thinking of biscuits. Usually my hyperactive mind starts overcoming its ADD around the early afternoon and the different voices talking inside my head are harnessed in the single adequate transmission of their master. By this time of the day, my London tour brought me in front of that massive Victorian industrial park. The sign read “Biscuit factory”.

“Master should write about this,” the voice said.

“Wait, what should I write about?”

“It’s not cookies for sure.”

Few meters ahead, there was the sign with the monkey on it. Now that was something familiar. The Arch Climbing Wall! Without further hesitation, I entered the yard.

“BINGO! A bouldering wall! Master knows he cannot resist,” the voice was giggling.

“Shut up!” I responded.

Continue reading The Arch Climbing Wall|London’s Finest #2