Indoor climbing seems to come in for a lot of stick from the ‘purists’ who like their rock, well, rocky rather than plastic. Which is fair enough, but seeing as I live in the The Fens, if I want to go climbing during the week without taking a holiday, I have no choice but to climb indoors. My local wall (Cambridge) is quite frankly shocking. It’s about 6 metres high, smells of old socks, with no ropes, no facilities for leading, and as far as I can tell, the routes have never even been cleaned let alone changed. Quite honestly, I probably get more enjoyment from climbing my local trees.
Next nearest ‘wall’ that I can find is the outdoor activity centre at Mepal. This isn’t so much a wall. It’s a tent. And while the wall is taller than Cambridge (11m), and has facilities for leading, it only seems to be open about three times a year. Next up is probably Stowmarket. I’ve never been there, so can’t comment.
So, given that the local facilities are so desperately appalling, the prospect of a 120 mile round trip to climb at Hatfield isn’t so bad after all, even if it is ruinously expensive in terms of time and petrol. At least I get to play on a sensible wall, with good facilities, and a cafe. Which is exactly what I did last night. My normal climbing buddy Sol was on babysitting duty, so I arranged to meet up with Kev, another friend and ex-bike racer, who is also a dead handy climber. The goal of the evening was just to get back on a wall after the Christmas break, and see just how badly all that booze and food had affected my ability to climb, so I wasn’t expecting to achieve much really. After a bit of bouldering to warm up, Kev decided to launch straight into my nemesis route – ‘only’ a 4c  but with a thuggy overhang above a ledge which while not technically taxing, for some reason really freaked me out. To the point where I could top-rope the route with ease, but had backed off three times on lead attempts. So I held the ropes, and watched him whizz up to the top without too much trouble, other than a bit of a shaky leg half way up. So it was my turn… I didn’t get off to the best start when I nearly slipped off a simple mantleshelf onto the ledge, but I put that straight behind me, probably being due to me carrying an extra 3kgs or so after Christmas. Ooops. Next up was the crux – pulling up under an overhang, a couple of strong moves, then back out onto the main face. This is the bit I’d failed on three times before, despite being able to do it when protected by top-rope. This time, however, I didn’t even think about it – I clipped just under the overhang, pulled up, got my legs up, and with a bit of grunting and foot shuffling, found myself above the crux and back on the main face. I was so surprised to find myself up there, that I noted the bolt to clip to was now below my waist, which was less than ideal. Still, the bolt was clipped, and the rest of the route was climbed without too much trouble. Woo! Happy.
The rest of the evening was spent climbing a selection of other routes, and generally having a very enjoyable evening. Another 4c was going swimmingly up until the very final move to grab the jug next to the lower-off – as I moved up my hand slipped, and I was forced to grab out at the nearest hold which wasn’t on the route I was climbing. Dammit. More chalk next time. (I’ve always thought of chalk as primarily a psychological aid. This time, however, I absolutely needed it. Another lesson learned).
So, while I’m not obsessed with chasing grades, it’s good to finally have an idea of what I can acheive as a starting point. Currently 4b I can walk up without thinking about it. 4c makes me work, but I can do them. And at 5a I fall off. But that’s OK, as Kev fell from the same 5a twice, and he’s a far better climber than I. The only downside to the evening was that I got so carried away climbing that I failed to notice the cafe closing at 10pm, so I never did get that cuppa.
 Hatfield grades it’s routes with UK technical standard.