Indoor Climbing

The standard disclaimers about how dangerous climbing is and how unreliable anything is you read anywhere apply here as well. This site is far from definitive (and probably far from accurate).    It is here for the amusement of myself and friends and possibly to shed some light, though I don't mind a little obfuscation now and again either. Various parts have been adapted and pilfered from sources found hither and yon, though I have tried to make all entries mostly original.     So please read, but remember that responsibility for safe climbing is your own.


Indoors is where many people will have their first experience of climbing.

1. The Walls

There are a number of walls of varying size and quality spread all over the country. As at the time of writing, I have visited

Leeds Wall

Hull Wall

Huddersfield Wall

Liverpool Wall

Marple Wall

Rochdale Wall

Sheffield The Foundary

Sheffield The Edge

Edinburgh Ratho

Mile End Wall

All of the walls have different strengths and weaknesses, and will have staff and policies of varying quality. They will have different policies relating to how to belay (though if you are belaying in a safe manner they will generally leave you alone, unless they are having a bad day). Most of the policies will be forced on the wall by their insurers, so if they ask you to do something really stupid, do bear in mind it might not be the people concerned that have insisted on it.

Equally, there are staff who will get on your case about daft stuff. They are probably having a bad day. Don t get on your high horse too much especially if its your local wall cause a scene, be banned, erm, what do you do then? Saying that, almost all of the staff I have run into have been friendly and helpful.

Some walls (like Mile End) have a much, much better bouldering setup than a route setup. In fact, Mile End is worth mentioning just for the superb quality of the bouldering. Most walls have a combination of both.

The way routes work indoors is that holds are bolted to the wall at intervals, and a set of holds (usually one colour) are set to a certain grade i.e. the blue holds might be graded at 6b, the yellow at 5+. This will vary from line to line though.

Each wall will have different route characteristics, as a different person will set the routes at each wall. Sheffield The Edge is probably the most technical wall I ve been to Leeds is probably the most brutal i.e. the routes require more strength and reach than technical ability.

2. The Rules

Most walls have a membership policy. If you are a member, it means that you have taken a belay test, have signed that you are a capable climber, etc. Some walls will not let you belay at all unless you have paid up to become a member again, its an insurance thing. Follow their rules. If you are not sure of the rules, ask.

Saying that, here are the Normal rules

If you are a beginner, you may not belay unless supervised.

Supervision requires a registered member of the wall standing just behind the novice belayer holding the dead rope. This means that if the novice belayer has a mishap, their supervisor can lock off the rope.

The effect of the above is that if you go down to the wall with just a beginner, they will get a climb and you won t. The wall will not allow you to supervise a belayer whilst being belayed by the same person. Hence a party of three, two registered members to one novice, works well.

A beginner has to be signed in by a registered member, who will then take responsibility for their actions.

Becoming Registered

Generally this will require a member of staff observing your belaying, and possibly asking you to tie a figure-of-eight knot and put on a harness. You will also almost certainly have to fill in a form saying that you are capable of the above and sign it.

3. The Bleeding Obvious.

Do NOT run inside the wall. Whoops, you ve just banged into someone belaying, and they ve let go of the rope. Whoops I ve just tripped over someone s rope.

Do NOT yell, scream, etc, without good reason. Climbing involves communication between belayer and climber. If they cannot hear their climber then there is a potential safely issue. I m not saying it should be a library normal talking is fine but TIGHT!!!!!! from the top of the wall needs to be heard.

Obey the wall staff, however daft the orders.

4. Safety

An indoor wall is a more controlled environment than a rockface, obviously. This, in theory, means that it will be much safer, and, in practice, it is. Most indoor walls will have a semi-padded floor all over, and will definitely have the crash mat from heaven under the bouldering wall think a couple of feet thick.

Other safety points worth mentioning

The holds tend to be well attached to the wall, and don t break off. However, they are generally secured by a central bolt, and these do work loose. Putting your hand on a hold and finding it spins is not uncommon. Let a member of the wall staff know immediately.

The protection is always excellent brand new bolts a few feet apart, sometimes pre-clipped with quickdraws.

5. The Climbing

Climbing indoors is different to climbing outdoors how different depends on what you climb outside. Climbing walls have advanced from those common in the 1980 s, which were basically a brick wall with a few bricks knocked out. Most walls have plywood panels with holds bolted onto them. Most will also have a feature wall which will try to mimic the textures and holds found on real rock.

Despite this there is still a limited degree of variety of holds. - Inside, you don tend to get cracks or slopers to the same degree as outside. Inside climbing you are normally on jugs (of varying shapes and sizes) and crimps. Outside the variety is endless.

Normally an indoor wall will have a number of vertical lines, generally with a screwgate krab and a huge jug at the top. Then there will be a few routes up the wall under the jug, being, say, a yellow route (6a) and red route (6b) a purple with black spots route (6c). A typical large facility may have 100 lines and 300 routes. These routes will be changed regularly how regularly depends on the wall some walls change routes every few weeks, some will wait a couple of years.

However, real rock is a whole different kettle of fish.

Inside your route-finding is done for you you just go for the next hold of the relevant colour. This removes a large amount of the difficulty outside, where you can use anything you can touch, just it might not be very good, might break off, and may not get you where you want to go.

Inside tends to feel safer than outside which it generally is and hence you do not experience the same mental challenge that climbing outside brings.

You do not have to place gear inside, or decide on placements, or manage more than one rope.

In my view climbing inside takes all the mental work out of climbing, and turns the experience into a purely physical one, whereas climbing outside is mainly a mental exercise. As I enjoy the mental challenge of climbing much, much more than the physical I am not a great fan of indoor walls, but for introducing someone to climbing and learning the ropes, as well as maintaining strength over the winter when you cannot get outside as much as you would like, they do the job.

NOTE Climbing walls can get very busy, especially during weekdays, and especially if its wet outside. You may well end up queueing for routes. In addition, many walls will make money out of courses for school groups, etc, so you may find you get to the wall and find that all the easy routes are full up with pint sized climbers and a stressed instructor.

6. Costs

A wall will generally charge in the region of about 5-6 for entry, and after that you can climb as long as you like that day. Registration can vary wildly from free to 15 or more.

Hire of boots and a harness is generally 2-3 for each item.