Travelling alone in Yangshuo, China eight years ago, little did I know that my spontaneous signing up for a half day’s rock climbing on the area’s majestic shaped limestone peaks would change my life.
I was never good at team sports. Skinny and quiet, I was always picked last for netball. The only thing that I excelled in was the yearly strength test where we had to hang from a pole. I could always outlast everyone. I never gave exercise my time of day until I met climbing that sweaty morning on the other side of the world. Balance, movement, power; climbing awakened something in my body. I had finally found a ‘sport’ I loved. Climbing outdoors, there is no competition and no ego when you are metres up, legs shaking, cursing. Be it type one, type two or type three fun, I always remember each moment of adrenaline, elation and fear. Pushing your way to the top beyond what you thought possible and looking out over the horizon is one of the most intense feelings. For me, climbing is less a sport and more a lifestyle, an approach to living far beyond the treadmills going nowhere in a gym.
I was lucky to start my relationship with climbing on real rock. I fell in love with it and dropped out of university in my first year to return to China. I gradually grasped the hang of tufas, technical walls and crimping. I met some amazing people there and watched the likes of Chris Sharma and James Pearson crush the exotic peaks. Importantly, I met some of the most amazing local people who had chosen a life of climbing over farming in their poor villages. I grew a lot in that year and grew up enough to return to the UK to finish my studies.
Back in London I ended up one day visiting The Castle, which housed an array of climbing walls. I struggled to pull on plastic and having to place my feet where a coloured hold dictated. I gradually got the hang of it and enjoyed getting strong and fit. Many hours were spent on the Beast Maker, getting ready for outdoor projects. I was able to give something back from my love of climbing when I got the job as the only female route setter in the centre. My experience outdoors helped me create interesting and technical routes, and I enjoyed watching people figure them out.
The Castle’s unique architecture houses a warm and friendly community of climbers, and the garden is a refuge against London’s hectic pace. Several years later I am still there, doing a bit of everything. Each day I walk in and see the familiar faces of staff and customers. Having recently returned from half a year studying in Taiwan, it feels like coming home and seeing family. A nine to five job in an office with a stressful commute? No thanks. I will always choose a life of freedom, space and avoid the routine of work, eat, sleep, repeat.
Beyond climbing, travel is my other passion in life. I get through passports like there’s no tomorrow. Climbing fuels this nomadic lifestyle as it takes you to places in the world you would never see otherwise. Off the beaten track and in nature you can escape the pressure of the modern world. Every climbing trip has given me unique memories. Being physically battered in Spain’s Santa Linya cave, chilling with monkeys on the beach in Ton Sai, terrified senseless seconding The Fang on wet cold rock in beautiful Wales.
You face many things about yourself in each moment on the rock. You push yourself, scare yourself, bruise and cut yourself. Climbing encourages you to look not only upwards but inwards. And that is why I love climbing.