First time climb as Vicky Andrews visits Liverpool’s second Climbing Hangar at The Matchworks
Until this week I’d never heard of Shauna Coxsey (pictured above), but the 27-year-old from Runcorn is Britain's most successful ever competitive climber.
In 2016, she won the Women’s Bouldering title at the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Cup and was awarded an MBE for her services to climbing. In 2017, the Queen of the boulders went on to win the IFSC title again and would have been the first British climber to take part in the Olympics in Tokyo this summer.
She shimmies up the wall effortlessly while I look up at the coloured blobs nervously
Shauna is one of a few international athletes who are bringing climbing to the masses as the sport grows in popularity. Liverpool’s second Climbing Hangar opened at The Matchworks in March and the 11,200 sq foot bouldering centre has seen the business hit new heights.
Several of the site’s original climbs were set by Shauna Coxsey, who is a Hangar ambassador, and brand new climbs are created every week to ensure that there is always something new to try, regardless of climbing ability or experience.
A range of measures have been introduced since corona to ensure the safety of each climber, including marked one way paths on the mats to make it easy for people to know where to stand while waiting to climb, dedicated cleaning rotas and deep cleans, as well as an increased number of hand sanitiser stations around the sites.
There’s a cafe and licensed bar, hang out spaces, training facilities and kids’ climbing. Even for absolute beginners like me, it’s easy to get started; all you need equipment wise is a pair of climbing shoes and some liquid chalk, both of which can be hired or bought.
Anna, my instructor, started climbing at university. In addition to being an expert boulderer she’s also one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met in my life and shimmies up the wall effortlessly while I look up at the coloured blobs nervously. Each climb is colour coded depending on its difficulty and a real plus is that beginners use the same spaces as the experts, so you can come and climb with family, friends or on your own.
I pull up my big girl pants and crack on with a grey route (easiest, of course), reaching the top with not too much difficulty at all. My main fear was that I’d get stuck and have to let go but the walls are only 4.2 metres high and with a soft sprung floor the only thing you might damage is your ego. Completing my first climb under Anna’s supervision is a great buzz and gives me the confidence to try some more routes on my own.
Climbing works multiple muscle groups and your back, abdominal muscles and legs all get exercised as well as your ﬁngers, shoulders and arms. Beginners can build up muscles fairly quickly so that after a couple of sessions you can challenge yourself to harder routes. For more experienced climbers there are training areas - hangboards, finger boards and climbing holds - to improve your strength and stamina.
Dom has been climbing for 18 months and comes to the Climbing Hangar three or four times a week. He says; “It’s different from any other sport and makes you use your whole body in different ways. If you climb regularly you could get really good within six months. But you’d never complete it and there’s always going to be something that will challenge you.”
“It’s a really good community here. A lot of people know each other but there’s always new faces as well and people are willing to help you out and give you a bit of advice.”
John is an instructor who got into climbing while travelling in South East Asia.
“One of the best things about climbing is that anyone can have a go; it’s a real social environment,” he says.
“Everyone who comes down for their first time gets an induction. It’s not about showing off; we have fun climbs for all levels and bouldering is really accessible to everyone.”
The Climbing Hangar is budget friendly too; PAYG sessions cost just £9.50 for a two or three hour session or you can get a monthly membership that saves you money but doesn’t tie you into a never-ending contract like the gym.
As well as being a workout for the whole body, I found that my Friday night climbing session was a really good way to leave the stress of the week behind. Completing the routes requires a bit of concentration and coordination and it’s a bit like solving a 3D puzzle.
Climbers around the world talk about the sport as a way to unwind, build confidence and self-esteem, alleviating the symptoms of some mental health problems. In Austria and Germany in particular, climbing as therapy is well-established, with educational courses on the topic, books and even hospitals boasting climbing facilities.
As well as the benefits to physical and mental health, bouldering is a really fun and social sport. I definitely felt much better after than if I’d spent the evening sitting on the couch or in the pub.
Shauna Coxsey will retain her place to compete at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Get down to The Climbing Hangar this week and who knows; maybe you could join her.
To find out more visit The Climbing Hangar Matchworks or follow The Climbing Hangar on Instagram or Facebook.
Vicky Andrews @PlanetVicster