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.
Already at the reception desk, I stood in the queue. It was Saturday and the place was brimming. Then my turn came and I introduced myself…
“Oh, you are the guy with “S”, right?” (My Slavic name just wasn’t meant to be pronounced by westerners). “Hop inside, we were waiting for you!”
“Sweet, thank you!”
And I was in.
“Lovely climbing people,” I thought, “and the place they are inhabiting looks even lovelier.” A mammoth bouldering space we’re talking here and if you’re trying to get a full idea of the Arch’s reach around the city you’ll need at least two days to check all three locations. Bouldering in the “Biscuit” and “Building One” is possible in one long session because the two quite different walls are actually separate islands from the same Biscuit factory industrial archipelago. The Yin and Yang of the Arch Climbing triad, these places are literally the dark and the bright side. “Arch North” on the other hand is the third and newest center by the brand built less than a year ago at Burnt Oak, North London. In spite of its similarities with Building One, North has its own distinctive pattern.
My first contact with the “monkey brand” was the earliest Arch wall – the Biscuit Factory. The place was packed at Saturday morning. The atmosphere felt a bit dark, cold and humid but rich on climbing lifestyle. The wall – variegated and rookie-friendly with all these slabs and slight overhangs complete with ample amount of jugs. I couldn’t find the changing rooms and got dressed in a cozy lounge area arranged with couches, green plants, signed posters of climbing stars, graffiti, and magazines. After warming up (a long process due to the chill), I started to cruise around the easy problems. I’m pretty sure British climbers enjoy hotaches (INDOORS!) and even get motivated by having them because nobody seemed to be bothered by those bastards except for me – the hissing and palms waving me. But then you adapt and the real fun begins.
Later, when I already had a basis for comparison, I categorized the routesetting at Biscuit as excellent and professional but very distinctive from the other two walls – a strange and interesting phenomenon. Routes around V4 – V6 were technical and filled with precise footwork and even among the easier problems there were lots of big and reachy moves. “This must be a place that’s reserved for the bold and strong Arch fans,” I thought and moved few hundred meters down the same industrial yard to try the second wall – Building One.
Oh yeah, and if you are keen on buying quality merch as keepsakes from the places you visit, like well-designed t-shirts for example, you should check out what they have here because Arch’s stuff is remarkable. At least get a brush – just as I did!
Building One was visibly newer and modern. I found an even bigger variety of surfaces, comp walls, perfect training area, a big roof tunnel, and an amusing topout section with tricky mantels. Here the team of Scott Bishop, Josh Murr and Jethro Whaley provided hundreds of excellent problems with new school touch of modern holds, many slopers and volumes – things I personally love! The collection of holds grew with the best shapes by BleauStone, Flatholds, Lapis, Core, Volx and less of the old, polished Biscuit HRT’s. I pressured myself to try at least one problem from every area and finally left the place hungry and thrashed as a wild beast.
The time of my indoor trip was flying so I allowed myself just one day of rest and then headed north. What I found there was large, new and fancy. Behind the big showcase with the familiar monkeys, the grey battleship blocs of the latest Arch climbing installment were standing nobly. This place was the crown of everything I described so far. Empty in the afternoon, the wall allowed me to examine its design and atmosphere without all the people jumping around. It was the future of hard bouldering as I understand it – rich surfaces, friendly grey cover (perfect for your shoes and skin), lots of volumes including some of my favorite XCult slopers and strong feeling of undeveloped potential.
I wasn’t in a hurry to go but it was farewell and I left Arch Climbing Wall, chalk still all over me, knowing it is a place I’d stop by anytime I’m around.
More info: archclimbingwall.com/