I never imagined a global pandemic would confine us to our own homes for months on end, and yet hidden up in our loft is the perfect lockdown setup: three steep training boards filled with wooden and resin holds, repurposed mattresses for matting, plus fingerboards and dumbbell weights for conditioning.
As far as training facilities go, it’s pretty much ideal. But when it comes to motivation (and you’re inspired by big places and dramatic landscapes like me) your own home doesn’t really hit the spot. You won’t find mountain adventures on a training board that has short and accessible as its design principles. But after months of substituting rock for plywood, I’m surprised at what I did find.
At the beginning of lockdown there were some holds on the boards I could easily jump between, and others I simply couldn’t. In between, I found an unknown very much worth exploring. My performance on an eight-by-ten-foot board was determined by precision, timing, strength and belief. Instead of a hard fact that I couldn’t change, these were variables I very much could. Exploring them became a sort of lockdown project.
With a bit of attention and plenty of free time, I found a way to position my body in the air so that mid-flight my leading arm was guided towards the target hold. A co-ordination of tension and swing will absorb the momentum of a dyno and bring my feet back to the board once my hand has landed. Sometimes it’s a bit of faith that seems to hold me off the ground. This sort of movement seemed basic and brutish to me, but it actually contains much of what I love in climbing: a challenge for my mind and body in movement.
Over the course of recurrent lockdowns, I teased open the weak spots in my climbing to make progress. I learnt to keep my attention on my feet as I stretch to a high hold, maintain tension there and stop myself from swinging off. A powerful move can have three or four stages as my body tracks the most efficient line up the wall. I can swing one leg through the air to generate momentum like a monkey’s tail. Falling meant firing out from the wall and clouds of chalk would rise up from the old mattresses, but once the dust settled I would look back at the board willing to try and fail again.
I’ve grown familiar with each of the hundreds of holds in the loft, spent hours alone with them listening to playlists and podcasts and felt disappointed when I was too tired to keep going. I adapted my lockdown ambitions to the great indoors: my big days were long sessions with fingerboarding and conditioning included; my big challenge was between two holds on a 40 degree overhanging board and I obsessed over it like real rock climb. The monotony of my training plan became a sort of ritual: arranging the weights on a bar, the combination of sets and reps on the fingerboard - it was like a solitary lockdown ceremony to bring future strength. The loft became a sort of dark, dusty temple where I made sacrifices of time and effort to the training gods.
I’m used to seeing training like this, as a sort of work or suffering that buys you better times on those outdoor days when it all comes together. If I was ever going to do my time in the training room and earn my passage to greater climbing experiences then I suppose lockdown was the time. But thankfully training was more than that. I still spent much of lockdown imagining how it would all feel on the end of a rope, dreaming of ambitious big-wall adventures and transposing my training successes onto them, but I also enjoyed the training in itself. Although lockdown is over (hopefully for good) I still go back to the loft as if looking for something I haven’t yet found. There’s still something to learn up there, something to improve, a challenge to apply myself to and of course plenty of training to do.
I went into the pandemic focusing on what I couldn’t do, but training was an opportunity to do a better job of what I could. Lockdown was (and still is) more or less the antithesis of what I’m inspired by, but with some curiosity and attention I found something worth exploring somewhere in that loft. As it turns out, challenges are a lot easier if you’re inspired by them. I still wish this one took the form of a massive rock face, but we don’t get to pick our challenges, so I’m glad I took the passion I’ve got for the outdoors and applied it indoors. Not all worthwhile challenges are big mountains or cool rock faces (unfortunately), so hopefully I can see future challenges with the same curiosity I saw in the gap between those two holds in the loft. For now I won’t be substituting rock for anything, but I’m glad for the time I spent indoors and what I learnt from lockdown.
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Words by | Angus Kille
Angus spent much of his childhood walking in the hills and mountains, but at the age of fourteen, he was taken out rock climbing for an afternoon on Welsh sea cliffs and realised instantly that he was a climber.