Members are active in what is known as traditional (trad) rock climbing. This is a British speciality and is rock climbing at its purest. In theory you start at the bottom of a cliff and place only your own gear as you climb. The leader places a variety of different shaped bits of gear in cracks or around rocky protrusions. The rope is clipped into these as the leader passes via a snaplink (carabiner). The second holds the other end of the rope in a friction (belay) device so that if the leader falls off (which they will strive not to do) any fall is only back to the last piece of gear.
Trad climbing locations are all over the UK but the club regularly visits the Peak District, the Lakes, Snowdonia and sea cliffs in Pembrokeshire, at Swanage and in Cornwall. Trad climbing skills are necessary if you are climbing in many areas outside the UK particularly in the bigger mountains.
Climbs are graded according to technical difficulty but also have an adjectival grade (eg Very Severe) which describes how they feel (for example an easy move a long way up will feel harder).
To start rock climbing, you can manage initially with tight fitting trainers but you will soon need a pair of rock boots. The rest of the gear can be borrowed initially.
Sport climbing is limited in the UK (by a voluntary agreement in the climbing community) to cliffs that cannot easily be protected in traditional fashion. Typically these are limestone cliffs devoid of cracks and are often steeper and harder to climb technically than trad routes. The routes are protected by solid expansion bolts drilled into the rock. The leader clips into these as they pass and the second holds the rope as for trad climbing. The style of climbing is similar to climbing walls and is intrinsically safer (but, trad climbers would say, less exciting). Often, sport routes finish at a lower off rather than the top of the cliff. The main UK area that the club visits for this form of climbing is the Isle of Portland. On the continent, bolting of cliffs is much more prevalent even where natural gear could be placed. The club regularly visits sport climbing locations in Spain and France for example and has had trips to the Greek Island of Kalymnos. Even on some bigger climbs, they can be completely bolt protected meaning they are ideal holiday locations (for example Paklenica in Croatia). Gradings of sport climbs are purely numerical and tend to follow the French grading system.
You will need a pair of rock boots to get started.
Sandstone climbing is almost a separate category. The sandstone rocks around Tunbridge Wells (eg Harrisons and High Rocks) are quite fragile. They will not support the placing of gear and bolts are forbidden. The tradition here is that climbs are top-roped with a long sling protecting the edge of the cliff. The club has a long tradition of climbing on these outcrops and they provide good exercise on Summer weekends and evenings. Grades are purely numerical. Beware the apparent ease with which afficionados climb their favourites. Years of repetition has honed their skills and you may struggle initially to get off the ground!
You will need at least trainers, but very soon rock boots to get started.
Several club members are active is this field. It does not mean just going out when it’s cold (although that’s a key part of it). It means climbing snow and ice using crampons and ice axes. It’s a form of trad climbing in that you place your own gear – usually ice-screws placed in the ice. Routes can follow consolidated snow gulleys (such as on Ben Nevis) but more modern climbs will take the buttresses and even what are quite hard Summer rock routes. Because winter gear can damage the rock, the general rule for Winter ascents is that it should be easier to climb the route with Winter gear than without. Scotland is the most dependable place for Winter Climbing in the UK but Snowdonia and the Lake District can also provide good conditions is a hard Winter. Winter climbing skills include developing a sound understanding of snow and avalanche conditions and keeping a keen eye on the weather. These skills are needed in spades when transferred to the bigger Alpine Routes.
In recent times with modern gear there has been a trend to climb spectacular waterfalls usually on the continent. These usually have the advantage of swift access as well as spectacular climbing.
More esoteric is climbing the chalk cliffs of the channel coast as if they were made of ice. It’s hard work and scary. That hasn’t stopped a few club members indulging.
To start it’s best to talk to club members about gear before spending lots of money.
A modern branch of the sport is bouldering. This is done on quite small cliffs or boulders and the idea is to solve the problem of getting to the top. It often requires several attempts (or surruptitiously watching someone else). In between attempts people often have to jump off and modern bouldering mats are desirable to avoid ankle damage. There are bouldering locations in all the main climbing areas in the UK. The most well known place internationally is Fontainebleau near Paris where a series of magnificent sandstone boulders seems to have been put there just for climbers. The club usually has at least one trip here each year.
You’ll need rockboots to start.
This term just means climbing in the mountains. It can mean long challenging walks in Winter or Summer but may also mean long rock climbs (for example in the Dolomites) or mixed (rock plus some snow and ice) for example in the French Alps. Climbers usually graduate to these from trad rock climbing in the UK. There are usually one or two trips each year to the bigger mountains on the continent.
You’ll need a mixture of rock and walking gear and possibly winter equipment to get going but talk to club members before getting the credit card out.