Making a mountain out of St Albans’ Westminster Lodge

Monique reaches for a new handhold

Monique reaches for a new handhold - Credit: Archant

NORMALLY the thought of being suspended mid-air on a rope and clinging to odd plastic shapes doesn’t really appeal to me but last Friday I bit the bullet and toddled down to Westminster Lodge to try out their newly built climbing wall.

Boasting a 12m roped wall and an 8m free standing pinnacle, anyone suffering vertigo probably wouldn’t be best suited to this activity.

I arrived with my brave face on and warily assessed the wall and Bryan, my teacher.

Getting set up was simple enough. He asked me if I had done this kind of thing before, so I regaled him with tales of a Year 7 holiday and how I thought I’d ‘nailed it’. Bryan didn’t look very confident.

On went some extremely tight shoes which hugged your feet for better grip and I was led to the ‘boulder wall’. The idea was to get used to pulling with your hands and pushing with your feet to scale the wall with no ropes. Three tiny rocks in and I was a goner, frozen by a terrible fear of falling on the squishy play mat below me.

Despite probably only being 60cm off the floor, in my head I was at the top of a skyscraper. Resembling a very uncomfortable cat I lowered myself limb by limb to the safety of the floor.

This was definitely going to be harder than I thought. Not only did it become apparent that my mind needed to be switched on to ace this challenge, I also needed to call on some superhero strength to get me to the wall summit as my arms were absolutely killing.

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But I don’t give up on a challenge so regardless of my impending fear which soon started to take hold, I stepped into my waiting climbing harness and Brian got to work hooking me up while I quizzed him.

My worry soon melted away when he explained the rigorous safety checks that the centre carries out. The ropes are checked at several points during every day, and are tested with extreme weights before they even make it to the centre.

Staff have to be serious rock climbers who will have preferably taken part in climbing expeditions over the world or worked for a search and rescue team. Suddenly I relax and am ready for my big climb.

Bryan was a brilliant instructor and led me up the wall with patience and precision. Halfway up the wall though and the fear hit again.

It’s very easy to forget you can let go and be supported by the rope when scaling the wall, which maybe is testament to how ‘real’ the experience seems.

During my second attempt at conquering the wall I felt much more confident. Not just because I had bigger ‘rocks’ to hold onto, but also because I slowly realised Bryan wouldn’t mess around with the rope and despite my reservations, did want to get me safely to the top and back down.

The times I fell short were when I couldn’t figure out where to put my hand next and was too downright scared to take a leap of faith. To be really competent at this sport you need mental ability as much as agility.

The pièce de résistance of my hour climbing slot was getting to tackle the free-standing wall, which was riddled with realistic crevices and had coarser surface to utilise the rock-face more.

Danny, our photographer, was super brave and got to the top before ‘locking off’ to get a prime paparazzi spot and ensure everyone would not only read about my fear, but see it also. After swallowing my leftover nerves the final climb was a triumph and I successfully got to the summit of the structure.

Abseiling down was less fun as I had to keep my toes off the rock face as the climbing shoes had squidged them so much – I was more than ready to be standing upright once again.

But as soon as I planted my sore feet back on the rubbery ground I instantly wanted to scramble back up the wall; there’s something incredibly ego boosting about being several metres in the air and I left Westminster Lodge feeling on top of the world.

An hour long instructed taster session costs £11.25 for residents and £12.50 for non residents. For more information contact High Sports at Westminster Lodge.