Neil Gresham Masterclass

Our Secretary organised a climbing masterclass for a lucky few Wessex (and SCC) members before the Sherpa lecture on the 8th November.  Neil Gresham and Ed Hamer braved the long road down to Calshot where they were faced with a motley selection of punters (and DAJ).

We were split into two groups to help manage numbers.  Neil and Ed took different groups, but we swapped round after an hour to ensure we all got a mix of their advice.  The “theory” was very minimal and we spent most of the time roped-up and climbing.

I’ve distilled the basic points for all you climbers who couldn’t make it.  Have a read through and then perhaps give them a go next time you’re at the wall [insert massive disclaimer here about all at your own risk etc…]:


Ed talked to us about route-reading and learning to be comfortable taking lead falls indoors.

I’m guilty of never looking at where I’m going to be climbing (and clipping) before I start a climb.  Ed’s advice was that a bit of time spent studying the route (looking for the tricky moves and how to clip each quickdraw) saves a lot of time and energy whilst actually climbing.  You need to look all the way up – as far as you can see, although I doubt I’d be able to remember all those moves by the time I get there…

Understandably, a lot of climbers don’t like falling off.  I sometimes chicken out of doing certain moves if I don’t feel comfortable.  Ed got us to take a few lobs off an overhanging wall when we were stood above our last clipped quickdraw.  It’s a bit disconcerting at first – but at least your belayer will pay attention!

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Neil’s subject was controlling our technique when the pressure rises.

For a lot of climbers, our technique goes out of window when we’re high up, pumped and are tackling a steep crux.  Neil gave us some basic learning points to practice on easier climbs, which should stick in our heads when we get to the harder stuff.

  • Accurate footwork – try to place your feet on the holds without making any noise, scratching the wall first or making any ‘double-taps’.  Look at your feet all the way until they’re firmly on the hold;
  • Be clever about your body positioning – when climbing up vertical walls, move your centre of gravity over your highest foot, swinging your hips.  This gets a bit trickier on overhangs, but mastering your body position is very important;
  • Keep your arms straight – bent arms bring on the dreaded pump.  Squat down and let your legs do the hard work;
  • Relax your grip – there’s no need to hold on with a death grip all of the time (it’s another cause of pump);
  • Breathe – the part of your brain in charge of breathing is the opposite part to the one which works out complicated climbing moves.  When you’re tackling a difficult move, this part of the brain will take over and you’ll forget to breathe (notice climbers taking quick breaths after a tricky move).  Apparently mastering this one can take a lifetime!

Neil also told us how important it was to warm up (focus on cardio, with no static stretches before climbing) and to build up to hard climbs.  You should have a plan and then stick to it (e.g. 5, 6a, 6b, 6b, 6c).  I suppose everyone’s different so give a few methods a try and see what works best!