This is a constantly-evolving situation and while every attempt has been made to keep it up to date, some information may be related to previous Government restrictions and advice. The reader is asked to use their own judgement and context to this advice. If in doubt, best to wait.
There is only so long you can tell passionate people not to do what makes them happy before they eventually ignore you and go anyway. From my experience and conversations, climbers have been incredibly well behaved and have observed the lockdown measures very well to date.
However, as things begin to ease people can be seen walking the streets of villages like here in Llanberis with pads on their backs and even prominent climbers are sharing pictures and videos of rock climbing on social media again.
There is still some hesitancy from many, though, and lockdown measures are still in place. The Welsh Government, for example, are still offering guidance on what is acceptable and not and while climbing is not explicitly allowed, one could interpret the rules to say it’s okay.
North of the border, information can be found from the MCofS website. While a lot of these restrictions do not apply to many of you, they are still worth a read.
What is very clear comes from Snowdonia National Park, who have continued to close the Open Access land. The most current information can be found here, with links at the bottom of the page to maps that clearly show where is fair game and where is out of bounds. Similar information can be found on the Lake District National Park website and i’m sure (haven’t checked) that more will be available from other organisations of this nature.
Finally, it would be worthwhile looking at the Mountain Rescue England and Wales page. For us climbers, it is one of the teams under this organisation that will be sent to get us if the worst happens – and it has recently, even with the most experienced of climbers – so checking out their stance before you head out would be prudent.
You may notice that the above links do not link to the gov.uk website and there is a reason: right from the start, the rules and guidelines laid out by the government have been vague and open to interpretation. I’ve argued all along that this needs to be the case, as any rules need to fit Capel Curig and Campden equally; which isn’t going to happen. However, it would be remiss of me not to include them somewhere and i would encourage everyone to keep updated with the latest guidance and help to reduce the spread of the virus.
As a climbing coach, i’m often looked to for advice and guidance myself and that has been the case recently. A few people have been in touch to ask my thoughts on whether they can go climbing. So here it is, my two penneth worth.
I can’t say whether you should or should not go climbing, that is up to you. What i can do is offer some thoughts on things you should consider and ways you can keep yourself as safe and sane as possible.
I shall quickly make this explicit: i am not advocating anyone break the law. If the law where you are says not to do something (like driving for exercise) i am not suggesting you ignore it. This piece is more of a moral and ethical standpoint. Likewise, if you have developed symptoms, stay home and seek medical advice.
Assess the Risk: Travel
Let’s start at the start and leaving home. The longer you are travelling, the higher the risk of an accident.
You might be able to interpret the rules that you can drive to exercise “where more time is spent doing the latter than the former” but that does not mean you can drive from Birmingham to Burbage for an eight hour climbing day. This is one of those areas that requires us to place our own ethics on the situation and use our own judgement.
Stay as local as possible and visit your most local crags. If you do not have any crags near to your home, sadly this may mean you have to miss out for a little while longer.
Assess the Risk: Grades
No one can give an indication of what grades are acceptable. Non-climbers may perceive climbing to be inherently risky but for myself, as an example, the risk on a low 6b boulder problem with a good landing is as low as almost any other activity i’ll take on (i boulder around 7c normally).
As a rough guide, i’d stick to your old flash grade as a max for now, thus minimising the chances of needing assistance should you take a bad fall. And the difficulty of the climb is only one aspect: consider whether a highball is a wise idea, consider your level of expertise climbing outside and check out landings carefully.
We may be climbing alone for the foreseeable so there will be a lack of spotters. For some, this isn’t a problem – i climb alone often for example – but for others, solitude could be problematic if you’re reliant on spotters for safety. Likewise, seriously consider the consequence of soloing if you cannot find a belayer.
With trad climbing, consider safe rather than bold routes and pay closer attention to your gear placements than normal. Sport climbers may be in the best position but should still be more vigilant than normal.
Tone It Down a Touch
Remember no matter how much training you’ve been doing, you’ll likely be off the boil a little after such a long time off climbing. Even with a home training board, actual climbing is different and i don’t know anyone who has a home board that includes top outs.
Take it easy for a little while and don’t go flying out of the traps too fast. There will be plenty of time to build things back up again.
Take Some Practice Falls (Controlled)
I went out recently and was VERY rusty. Granted, i am prone to nervousness but i found myself reluctant to top out as it felt a bit sketchy. What helped massively was taking some controlled and safe falls.
These were carefully chosen, my landing was safe and flat and i jumped from progressively higher. It was much safer than taking a nervous fall on a top out and helped give me confidence to stay calm on the wall. It also gave me a gauge as to what i was comfortable to do.
Remember you don’t have to top out and at one point, i left a climb and marked it NTO (Not Topped Out) in my guide. As it turned out, i tried again later and felt fine but there is nothing wrong with down-climbing and walking away, as long as you’re honest about what you’ve done.
Use Your Own Experience
Obviously, it is only outdoor climbing that is available and if you’ve not done this before, it is VERY different to indoor climbing. Now is not really the time to try it for the first time.
We all have different levels of experience and again, this is where your own judgement will need to be used. If you’re not used to exploring new areas or trying new lines, perhaps stick to those you know; although this is probably the case if you’re complying with the above point on travel. Likewise, this is probably not the right time to be cleaning first ascents with brittle rock. Again, think about the risk of something going wrong and the consequence if it does.
Don’t Meet Up
Remember the reasons for the lockdown in the first place – to slow the rate of transfer of Covid-19 – are still as true now as then and that is why we’ve all been staying in since March. There is guidance over good practice when meeting those outside your household.
Of course, there’s the chance that you won’t be the only one there when you arrive. The BMC have released some advice on hotspots to avoid in England so have a read and use some judgement.
As much as the point above about staying at the familiar places may hold true for some of us, for others there is no problem going somewhere new. If you are experienced and capable enough to go to a different crag, consider that this may leave space for someone else at the more popular places.
Clean Up After Yourself
Hand cleaning has been a staple of this epidemic and should still be obeyed. Wash hands before you climb, and again after you’ve left. We will be sharing holds with others, that can’t really be helped, so do as much as you can to minimise the spread of infection.
As much as we should always take our rubbish home, it is even more important right now. Collecting rubbish from others is another way to transmit any infections so be certain you pay close attention to LNT (Leave No Trace) now more than ever.
There will still be plenty of people who do not agree with your climbing activities; both at the crag and online. Whether you are adamant you’re doing nothing wrong or not, antagonising people will not help anyone’s cause.
This is a slightly controversial point and for some, might be easier said than done. I posted a picture online after i’d been out and was subject to criticism for doing so; justifiably given the hypocrisy when writing this that very morning. Posting the picture was an error on my part and is best avoided to reduce conflict and risk access.
Subtlety applies to no-one more than with local farmers. Crags tend to be on farmland more often than not and upsetting the farmer is definitely not a sensible idea. Remember you are effectively at their home so be respectful and sensible. Climbing is one thing but let’s keep our heads down for a while longer. Myself included.
Remember Why We Locked Down In the First Place
If people hadn’t agreed with the whole point of the lockdown in the first place, there would’ve been climbers out and publicising their activities all along. There hasn’t and this means people must agree with the premise of it at some level.
Nothing has changed really. There is still no vaccine, the infection rate continues, we are not at the point of being shielded through herd immunity yet. Lockdown measures have only lifted slightly as the hospitals have the capacity to deal with the sick and the dying.
Yes, it has eased but that doesn’t mean we’re back to normal and we still need to be vigilant and remember the reasons from the start.
Act Within Your Conscience
If you’re walking in or sitting on a pad and feeling like you’re being naughty, like you shouldn’t be there or being racked with guilt, you should consider whether you truly believe it is okay to be there.
Only you can know if what you’re undertaking is a sensible and safe thing to be doing and whether it is likely to put anyone else at risk. Climbing is typically ethically driven, we don’t have referees to call us on our mistakes, it is down to us to act within our own set of ethics.
Now we need to apply those ethics to something other than onsights and dabs. Use your judgement, stay safe and stay happy. Best of psyche to you.
Feel Free To Get In Touch
If you would like to discuss your position, would like advice on getting out and about or would like to debate any of the points raised, feel free to get in touch, either through the contact form below or via the Facebook page.
While not possible now, also note that Prowess are soon to be offering Outdoor Guided Bouldering Courses so if you’re not experienced at outdoor bouldering and fancy some help, please take a look at the link in the menu above and get in touch for more information.