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Arc’teryx Academy’s ‘Climb Lake District’ | Outdoor Climbing For Everyone

Want to get into outdoor climbing but not sure how? This might just be the perfect event to help you out there

It goes without saying that the Lake District is one of the most stunning destinations in the UK. Aside from taking in the scenes by an open fire with a Cumbrian-brewed beer, it’s also a fantastic place to get out rock climbing. From high mountain crags and slate-laden quarries to neolithic boulders and low-lying Rhyolite; there’s a huge amount of options to choose from, for beginners and experts alike.

But how exactly does one get in to outdoor climbing? If you’ve got that nail-biting image of Alex Honnold placing his whole life in his hands in Free Solo then fear not – there are other ways to go about it… I recently tried Arc’teryx Academy’s ‘Climb Lake District’ weekend for example, and can confirm, it was a fantastic way to get to know the UK climbing scene. 

Photo: @alexhaslehurst

Formerly known as ‘Big Mountain Weekend’, ‘Climb Lake District’ features a collection of workshops, clinics, seminars and socials to help you develop and advance your climbing skills. It’s an opportunity for people of all abilities to learn from the best of the best in a safe and supportive environment, whilst also connecting with people who share your passion for the great outdoors.

Whilst they include progression clinics for the more experienced climbers too, it was the introductory climbing classes along with a fascinating environmental clinic run by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust that I opted for.

Related: Best Pub Walks In The Lake District

The whole event takes place in Langdale – with a basecamp at the scenic Sticklebarn pub – and it’s held in collaboration with the International School of Mountaineering. Rest assured then, with Arc’teryx athletes and mountain guides as your instructors, you’re in safe hands.

Basecamp at Sticklebarn. Photo: @tobyroney

Here’s a breakdown of just some of the classes they have on offer, as well as some beginner’s climbing tips from Arc’teryx ambassador Katy Whittaker, an organiser of the weekend and one of the best gritstone climbers in the world. 

Climb Lake District

The weekend kicked off with a film night at the Epicentre outdoor store in Ambleside. It was a showcase of inspiring short films on climbing and cold water swimming. They also showed Brass, Three Down, a documentary that highlights the environmental pressures on the Arctic charr in the waters of Windermere.

The next morning, we got suited and booted in demo gear and proceeded to our chosen clinics. The climbing clinics included trad climbing, scrambling, bouldering, mountain safety and rescue skills, and there was also a women’s specific climbing session. These all ranged from complete beginner classes to progression clinics for more experienced climbers, and they were all run by industry professionals.

Learning to tie in. Photo: Jazz Noble
Top rope climbing up Scout Crag. Photo: Jazz Noble

We checked out the introduction to outdoor climbing clinic to begin with and learnt skills such as choosing and putting on a climbing harness, tying into a climbing rope, climbing techniques and movements, safety skills, crag and mountain awareness, and how to safely hold a rope for another person. This clinic took place on Scout Crag in the Langdale valley right next to a field of grazing Herdwicks. A far cry away from the views of an indoor climbing gym that’s for sure.

The bouldering class was similarly impressive, taking place on the Langdale Boulders, an iconic site featuring prehistoric art etched into the side of the rocks. We learnt about bouldering mat management, how to spot your partner, route choice and gradings, how to fall off the boulder (safely but not necessarily with grace), and crag ethics amongst other things. Though not entirely recommended, we even managed to do some bouldering amidst a splattering of Lakeland rain…

The Langdale boulders. Photo: @tobyroney

The scrambling clinic, on the other hand, took us up Raven Crag, with a spectacular view across to Coniston water and the surrounding valleys. Here, the ISM instructors were incredibly thorough on precise footwork on the rocks, how to spot our climbing partners safely using rope techniques, as well as more general awareness in the outdoors. 

Related: 5 Of The Best Scrambling Routes In Snowdonia

Aside from climbing clinics, there were also classes available in wild swimming, yoga, wild camping and trail running and there was also a BBQ and live music back at the Sticklebarn basecamp. One of our favourite non-climbing activities, however, was the environmental clinic led by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Focusing on protecting and restoring local wildlife habitats, this session included Sphagnum moss planting in the bogs and peatlands of Low Tilberthwaite.

Wild swimming in the Lakes. Photo: @tobyroney
Sphagnum moss planting. Photo: Jazz Noble
Scrambling up Raven Crag. Photo: @tobyroney

An integral part of the habitats in the Lakes, Sphagnum moss is also an incredible weapon against climate change due to its carbon-locking abilities. Unfortunately due to the degradation of the peatlands because of drainage, heavy grazing, regular burning and the like, these habitats are breaking down and leaking carbon into our already warm atmosphere. Working with Cumbria Wildlife Trust experts, we helped carry out conservation work by moving peat-forming Sphagnum mosses into water-logged areas to help them thrive.

Katy Whittaker’s Climbing Tips For Beginners 

Having grown up on the rock faces of the Peak District, the home of British gritstone climbing, it’s no wonder Katy is one of the UK’s top climbers. Known for her precise movements and techniques, she was competing in BRYCCS (British Regional Young Climbers’ Competition Series) competitions at just 8 years old, she won the British Bouldering Competition in 2007, and has since gone on to complete iconic trad, sport and bouldering climbing routes all over the world. 

Photo: Alex Haslehurst/

Whilst indoor climbing is fun and ever-growing in its popularity, Katy is keen on showing people the unique sense of adventure that comes with outdoor climbing, as she explained to me.

“It might feel like a big step to get outside and do your first outdoor climb or to make the transition from indoors to outdoors”, said Katy. “It’s normal to feel fear. Everybody gets it, even the best climbers. So don’t beat yourself up or think it’s not for you if you’re feeling scared. Try and use mindfulness techniques. For example, think about how the hold feels under your hand, or think about your tummy breathing in and out and pressing on your harness, or what you can hear around you.”

Whilst it’s easy to get bogged down on finishing or ‘solving’ routes, Katy recommends only pushing yourself as far as feels comfortable. “It isn’t a competition and if you only want to go a few moves up to begin with then that’s totally fine.”

“It’s normal to feel fear. Everybody gets it, even the best climbers.”

But where to start? If you don’t have loads of experienced climbing buddies to show you the ropes, there are still plenty of options available. Katy’s advice: “You could join a local club or search on social media for a local group such as London Ladies Climb. These are often free or low cost to join and are a good and friendly option to dip your toe into climbing.”

Photo: @alexhaslehurst
Photo: @tobyroney

“Your local climbing wall might run courses to help you transition from indoors to outdoors too, such as the insideout course run by The Climbing Works in Sheffield,” Katy added. “The BMC also run ‘Ready to Rock’ courses all over the country, with women’s specific sessions to choose from. The sessions are £60 but there are options available for those in financial hardship as well. If you have the cash to splash then I recommend finding a local instructor or guiding company to take you out for a one-to-one session.”

I found that the Arc’teryx Academy’s ‘Climb Lake District’ was a great opportunity to come and have a taste of climbing. Each clinic is half a day and brilliant value for money. Participants can come along and try outdoor climbing or bouldering for the first time and if they enjoy it progress onto something else. It’s a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere and an easy way to meet new people.

Main Photo: @tobyroney


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