Samuel Bradley on Climbing
1. Why do you climb?
I really like being up high, makes me giddy in a good way. Also climbing is very supportive and social and you’re not really trying to ‘win'. It’s a competition with yourself for the most part. Then there’s the problem solving element - it's not just about brute strength or training, you have to think your way through a route.
2. How did you get into it?
A few years ago I did a charity climb with the Royal Marine Mountain Leaders in Switzerland. It was mostly ice climbing and hiking with crampons, but nothing too technical, just stunning views and crazy weather. On one of the days off in Lauterbrunnen two of the Marines took me to a local climbing wall and I loved it, then we did some mixed trad routes in the mountains - really easy grades, roughly 5a/5b in outdoor sport terms - but I’d never really done any proper climbing before so it seemed pretty tough. I had the best time. I signed up at the local wall as soon as I got back to London and was completely hooked.
3. What's something people who have never climbed don't realise or know about it?
It’s not about being able to do tons of pull ups, and being super strong really doesn’t help initially. Your footwork is as important as your upper body strength, and technique is everything. You can tell a novice because they climb loudly, feet banging into the wall above the holds because they’re focussing too much on upper body. You gotta finesse that stuff!
4. What's going through your mind when you're climbing?
Usually nothing beyond the next hold. If I’m outdoors on a beautiful route sometimes I’m taking it in so as not to arrive at the top without seeing the view, but sometimes you’re exposed and things might be a little dangerous so you’re just completely focussed on the rock.
5. Where is your favourite place to climb?
I haven’t had a huge amount of outdoors experiences in different places, but I love Dinorwig Quarry near Llanberis in Wales. It’s a beautiful old slate quarry which is now packed full of amazing sport and trad routes. Visually the landscape is incredible. Climbing there adds a whole new dimension because of the places you’re able to access.
6. What type of rock do you prefer? Why?
Slate is my favourite so far. I have the most experience on it. It’s very technical and precise, you can’t scramble up it as everything is so slippy, it requires a lot of delicate footwork. The geometry of the rock is really amazing, super sharp and graphic. There’s a place in my heart for sandstone though, 'cos it’s so damn awkward to climb on, it’s the opposite of slate. Lot’s of wriggling, tactical knees and grunting. You come home covered in scrapes.
7. Have you made a pilgrimage to one of the climbing centres - Fontainebleau, Yosemite, etc - yet? Are there any that you'd love to go to?
Not yet! Yosemite is high on the list, Font not so much as I’m not crazy about bouldering outdoors. If I’m going to make a trip I want the height and exposure. I’d like to climb in Northern Spain, I went to Asturias last year on holiday and didn’t get on the rock but saw some amazing spots along the coast which I’ll definitely go back to.
8. Being based in London, is it hard to get out into the countryside to climb frequently?
It’s not easy. Luckily I have two great dirt bag mates with vans who love nothing more than escaping the smog, kipping at the crag and not showering for days. It’s all about the company on those trips. Everyone has to be chipper. I have no time for complainers.
9. Tell us about your most memorable route.
The Burning, oh god The Burning. It’s not even that highly graded, I think maybe a 6b+ or something like that? So called because it gets the very last of the sun and pretty much glows orange. But it’s really exposed and gets all the wind as well. The first bolt is a leg breaking height off the ground so you’re totally unprotected during a really sketchy bridge between slippery, smooth slate faces. Once you get that first clip you can kind of relax but the route involves a lot of committing to a move to find the next hold, before you can even see where it is.
My first time on it I had a horrible couple of moments but I made it to the top, the second time I had pretty much the exact same experience. The lower off is sketchy as well because your rope grates on all the slate at the top and occasionally jams, so you’re jerking your way down waiting for the thing to snap or something. I recently clocked that you can escape another way, though, so if someone followed the climb and stripped the gear off the route it would be much nicer, just a stroll across a narrow slate bridge and a scramble. Neither of my pals have had a go at following yet though, probably because I bitched about the route so much and looked so freaked when I came down!