Feature: Spider Anne does whatever a spider can as she braves St Albans Westminster Lodge climbing wall
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
I am not afraid of heights. Or so I thought, until I looked up at the towering, 12-metre high climbing wall at Westminster Lodge.
As the shortest of the three Herts Ad reporters, I had the highest to climb - and therefore the furthest to fall. Fortunately, we were attached to ropes, which were tied with sturdy knots and fitted to harnesses around our legs and waists. As I tightened the straps, I looked up at the wall. Was this worth it? Was being out of the office on a Friday afternoon worth suffering vertigo, terror and potential social and professional embarrassment? Should I have become a journalist in the first place, if it meant I had to clamber up walls with the whole thing captured on camera?
The answer, in short, was yes.
Our photographer went first, perching halfway up the wall to capture (hopefully) our most flattering strained facial expressions. Editor Matt Adams went up next. He reached the top very quickly. I think he might have high-fived the photographer on the way down. Either way, it was impressive and set a worrying precedent for the rest of us.
Reporter Franki Berry went next. Franki seems naturally adept at this sort of thing, because she’s usually the Herts Ad’s volunteer for all exercise-related activities. I, on the other hand, hate any form of physical exertion and have not yet emotionally recovered from the paper’s hot yoga feature of July 2017.
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When I asked Franki about her experience of the climb, she said: “Going climbing seemed like a really good idea until we got there and actually had to scale a massive wall.
“It was enjoyable, but in an ‘I’m fearing for my life’ kind of way. I’m proud of myself for getting to the top though – long limbs has finally served a purpose!”
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After Franki had conquered the wall using a combination of long limbs and a cheerful willingness to give anything a go, it was my turn. I was both tiny and afraid.
“I’ll go next,” I had said, like a crazy person. I felt shaky, which did not bode well for gripping onto hand and footholds.
When I started actually climbing the wall, I realised I’m not that bad at it. I’m usually embarrassingly terrible at all sports, but climbing seemed like something I could actually do. We were doing the second easiest route up the wall, and before I knew it I was level with the photographer.
Every so often, our climbing instructor India would point me in the direction of the next handhold, and before I knew it I had almost reached the top. I did not look down. Having made it that far, I might as well continue. The rope was secure, and if I fell then the entire Herts Ad team and a professional instructor could hold onto the other end, so all I would do is dangle in mid-air.
I made it, at last, to the top. At this point I did look down, in order to shout “Have you got the rope? Is it ok to let go?” I didn’t have my glasses on, which made the ground seem even blurrier and further away.
Distant shouts assured me that I could take my hands off the wall and hold onto the rope, leaning back and abseiling down. This was not nearly as scary as it sounds, but I was nonetheless relieved to be on the ground, feeling giddy from the adrenaline.
Reporter Fraser Whieldon went next. He had previously informed us he is afraid of heights, but had bravely agreed to come climbing anyway. He made it impressively far for someone who would probably rather have been sitting alone in the office.
He said: “It was challenging, but fun. There was a great variety of climbing walls so lots of chances to get to grips with it.”
After we had all scaled the wall, Franki and I decided to attempt the most difficult route of all. Well, Franki decided to attempt it, and I didn’t want her to make me look bad.
The route had extremely sparse hand and footholds, and a prominent overhang which meant the climber had to crawl upside-down to get to the top level. Franki and her long, athletic limbs made it past the overhang. I should not have tried the difficult route, but, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, I did it anyway. I got barely a third (ok, a quarter) of the way up before realising I couldn’t heave my aching body any further, and shouting “I want to come down!”
The experience confirmed that climbing is, officially, the only form of serious physical exercise I don’t hate. I loved it, and I would definitely go again.
Climbing manager India Herbing’s tips for beginners are use your feet, try to stand up and straighten your arms, don’t be afraid of falling and keep trying.
To book a session call Wesminster Lodge on 01727 736080 or visit www.everyoneactive.com