Climbing at Glasgow Climbing Centre

Guys, climbing is AWESOME. And also I have zero upper body strength. But hey, always some room for improvement.

So. this morning I headed to the Glasgow Climbing Centre (GCA) in the Ibrox area. This climbing centre is super cool- its in an old church building, and takes full advantage of the high old ceilings. It still has a stained glass window too! There are multiple walls, with multiple routes and gradients, for both top rope climbing (the one where there is someone at the bottom, with a rope and a pulley, who will hold your weight if you fall) and lead climbing (where you clip a rope into holds are you ascend). It also has a cafe built into the rafters and bouldering walls (no ropes, at a low enough point that if you fall you wont be badly injured) downstairs underground, with a bouncy floor.

My friend A, who is a good climber and mountaineer, offered to give me an intro course to climbing 101. He has a lot of his own gear, so all we had to hire was shoes for me (weird to wear sports shoes that are intended to be skin tight).

We first practiced the knots and safety tips to keep everyone whole and healthy. The knots weren't too bad, I think previous knowledge of sailing knots really helped. Once I had the hang of that we practiced a few initial climbs and me 'belaying' A on easier and lower beginners walls (being the person at the end of the rope on the floor, whose weight would catch him if he fell). He did a few fake falls during this to show how it would feel.

We then moved on to some more difficult walls. Walls or routes in climbing are rated in difficulty by numbers (where 1 is walking on pavement and 6 is hard), and in letters and + signs. So for example A can do 6B+ routes, which are hard, and has done a few 6Cs, and above which are much harder. Its not the most straightforward of grading systems to be sure. Most I attempted were 4s or 5s. The best one I managed all of was a 4+. This is apparently a pretty standard start point. We did a few hours of this then broke for lunch in the cafe upstairs- pretty tasty!

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After lunch we checked out bouldering. JEEZ. Easier once on the wall but in bouldering you're expected to start from the floor. I just do not have the upper body strength to pull my body off the floor onto a wall, especially as its a natural overhand onto floor. We then went back to the walls upstairs and now A trusted me (to not drop him on a belay if he fell), he tried a few more difficult climbs, including one using 'features'. This describes moulded walls that perfectly mimic real rock cracks in cliff faces, you cant use any of the fake holds, just the moulded rock. The holds are a lot harder, and your body is forced to be less flat on the wall. He managed it after a few goes and let me try it but I only made it about a quarter of the way up.

The four needs for climbing I spotted online are listed as 'strength, endurance, agility and balance, plus some mental control'. I definitely lack in all these areas compared to him. My upper body strength is nowhere near my lower body strength, so I found it a lot easier to push up on my legs than to ever trust my hand holds. I also really lack endurance- after lunch I started getting worse again instead of better, because my arms and back were so tired! Now, my arms and even the skin on my hands are knackered. Usually my exercise regime only taxes my upper arms but today my FOREARMS are killing me. With agility I felt my issue was more trust- after a while A made me practice falling after leaping, because I was shying back from taking more extreme moves, and therefore getting stuck.

Balance is an interesting one, A sometimes sat with one leg hanging into space, which seems daft, but actually took a lot of pressure off his 3 other hand and foot holds because he was naturally balancing his body. He pointed out that if you balance right, you can take a break and stand indefinitely. With extended limbs, you allow your bones to take the weight so your muscles aren't working the same. This is one of the differences I noticed between a novice (me) and an experienced climber. Another was that all my hand holds I used to 'grab', he used hand holds very differently- pushing down on some or sideways onto some, to get the best support from them. The last thing was that all my climbing was very much spreadeagled onto a wall, facing it with all 4 limbs out, A did a lot more moves that had limbs above one another, or crossed a leg in front of his body between him and the wall.

I can totally understand how this becomes addictive. There was one particular green holds climb (a 5) that I could not get past a certain point on. The more I tried, the more tired my limbs got, and the less I could make the stretch I kept failing on. I'm already dreaming of going back fresh and conquering it. I didn't end up getting any photos of myself this time, but will next time. I'm going back.

Glasgow also has the Glasgow Climbing Academy, which has bouldering walls only (roughly 1100 square metres of them); Climbzone at Xscape; and snow factor at Xscape, which has an ice climbing wall (watch out for this- I will be doing this at some point).


Have you ever tried climbing? Would you? 

To clarify: No one paid me anything in any way, nor was I encouraged, to write about this place. 


  1. I regularly climb and think it is great fun. The place I go to you don't get strapped in or have to wear a harness, you climb without - an added incentive to not miss a grip ;)

    1. As in bouldering or free solo? If the second that's insane! Do you ever see any crazy injuries?

      I'm going to do more if I can. Loved it. Can tell its gonna be ace for the arms too?

  2. Looks like a really fun time!

    I climbed for the first time last week (on the cruise ship we were on); it was all the type of having a belayer (by the staff people, not other climbers, so you knew you could trust them!). Definitely scary the first time, about halfway up I seriously considering stopping. Then the belayer told me I was halfway up - and I was sure I was at least 2/3s, so that wasn't as motivating as he intended it to be! I'm definitely going to look into a groupon or something to continue climbing now that we're home!

    I found it really interesting the methods/advice the belayers/staff gave us, especially the difference to novices versus experiences. A good chunk of the climbers were kids, and to someone like me who said it was my first time, they told us to push with our legs, as if climbing a ladder (you wouldn't pull yourself up a ladder with your arms, and most of wouldn't have the strength to do so either). But then Abe was entering a speed competition, and the staff advised him that the method often used is more about pulling yourself up with your arms, and not even worrying about finding holds for your feet, just pressing them against the wall as you find your next hand hold. As he was trying more challenging routes on the walls, he was also advised about extending your limbs to give your muscles a rest.

    1. Yeah you can use the friction against just the wall to hold weight quite a lot of the time, its called smearing.

      Is it expensive to climb where you are? Its quite cheap here!

  3. Relatively expensive. A couple places I've found nearby are $12 - $15 per drop-in, or $64 for monthly. So, comparable to any other fitness or yoga class, but expensive enough that I wouldn't be willing to pay it too often! And with triathlon expenses and already paying $30/month for pool access... it'd be fun but not something I think can fit into the budget on a routine basis, unfortunately!

    1. That really is! This place is a catch for students- 4 per visit, free membership!

  4. Looks like so much fun! I'm heading to Xscape soon!

    1. I was worried xscape might be awfully busy, let me know how it is! It was awesome :) Already sourcing options to do it again asap. Is there an xscape in London or are you Glasgow bound?



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