I went climbing and scrambling in Dartmoor National Park as a break from my usual gym workouts.
Scrambling was fun, but the actual rock climbing was so much harder than I expected.
After a few failed attempts, I got the hang of things and felt proud afterwards.
This article is part of "Moments to Memories," a series highlighting joyful, exciting, and unforgettable experiences.
I love keeping fit and active, but I'm as guilty as anyone of staying firmly inside my comfort zone the majority of the time.
Leaving buzzing London at the end of 2022 for rural Devon in south-west England meant waving goodbye to my netball team and workout classes with friends. Since then, all my exercise has been solo in the gym.
But while Devon may lack bougie boutique fitness studios and adults' netball leagues (near me, at least), with its dramatic coastline and rolling countryside, it beats London easily when it comes to the natural landscape.
So I decided it was time to take my workouts outside the gym, reap the mental health benefits of being outside, explore my new home, and challenge myself.
Earlier this month, my boyfriend and I visited Dartmoor National Park, a vast, protected moorland in Devon, characterized by forest, rivers, and tors (rock formations), to try scrambling and climbing. While rock climbing requires equipment and involves scaling vertical rock faces, scrambling is a middle ground between hiking and climbing, using both hands and feet to climb upwards but no equipment.
I booked a session with a guide who would, literally, show us the ropes, and we strapped in for a half-day's adventure.
Having lifted weights for six years and climbed indoor walls a few times, I was surprised by how challenging the rock climbing was. It was hard and humbling but also exhilarating and fun — not to mention a great day out.
I arrived in Dartmoor on a dreary August morning.
We set off from our home of Dartmouth, a pretty seaside town, for a rainy, hour-long drive to Dartmoor to meet our guide, Chris Bartlett of Dartmoor Adventures, at a car park. It was a miserable, wet morning and the visibility was poor, which made me apprehensive.
But I tried to tell myself it was atmospheric, not just bleak.
We walked to Greator, a dramatic outcrop of granite.
We laced up our walking boots, put our harnesses and helmets into our rucksacks, and took a short walk to our first destination, Greator. We were covered head to toe not just because it wasn't particularly warm, but because there are lots of ticks on Dartmoor, and we didn't want to get bitten.
We wore waterproof trousers to walk through the gorse, as well as helmets to begin the scramble.
Bartlett guided us through the rock formation as we slowly climbed it, carefully placing our hands and feet in stable spots, squeezing through cracks, and pulling ourselves up until we were at the top, about 26 feet above the ground, before carefully making our way down the other side.
There wasn't a sharp drop or super steep inclines though, so I never felt like I was about to fall.
Fortunately, the rain had lightened up significantly by this point, but the granite was slippy under foot.
The granite was relatively easy to grip on to with our hands, and Bartlett advised us to have three points of contact at all times.
He also suggested we look for small V-shaped holes in the rocks to place our feet.
Scrambling through the rocks was a lot of fun and not too difficult.
I'm no stranger to a hike, so I've unofficially scrambled plenty of times, but I was still the slowest in our group because I wanted to make sure my hands and feet were always perfectly stable before moving onwards to stop me from slipping.
I did shuffle and slide down on my butt at times though.
I was careful but didn't feel scared that I'd fall and hurt myself, and it was a lot of fun — especially as the weather brightened up a little.
The scenery was beautiful and there was no one else around.
The scrambling definitely built my confidence for what was to come too.
Scrambling finished, we took off our waterproof trousers and had a snack break.
Listening to Lena Drapella, our photographer who specializes in rock climbing, and Bartlett discuss the merits of different types of "approach shoes" confirmed to my boyfriend and I that we were truly rookies.
But we were still unjustifiably confident and excited about trying a climb a bit later.
The successful scramble made me feel ready for bigger challenges, and we were raring to scale some rocks. It felt great to be outside and using my body in ways I'm not used to.
We took a small detour to admire the remains of a medieval village (very cool) and walked up to Hound Tor.
By this point it was really windy, but it was exhilarating and refreshing being out in the elements and made a change from being in a sweaty gym on my own.
We put harnesses on while Bartlett climbed up to the top of a 23-feet-high rock face and set himself up as the belayer: He would anchor the rope to protect us from falling.
At this point, I was excited, looking at the crag and thinking I would nail it. It was a simple challenge in theory: Find the nooks and crannies in the rock face to climb to the top then abseil back down.
I'm strong, I'm fit, this will be a piece of cake, I thought.
I was wrong.
Needless to say, I did not nail my first attempt. Or my second. Or my third.
I quickly realized that it wasn't the easiest of climbs because the rock had a slight overhang at the start.
I tried three times and barely got anywhere.
My hands hurt, my nails were scratched, my forearms were burning, and my callouses from weight lifting were reappearing.
Slightly frustrated, I took a break and let my boyfriend have a go.
I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I remembered that I was once a beginner in the gym too, a beginner who couldn't do a pull-up, push-up, or deadlift like I can now.
I was ready to give up on this crag but the team encouraged me to have another go. And this time went better!
Did we cheat slightly? OK, yes.
The key, we discovered, was a helpful boost from your partner to get past the bottom most challenging bit.
But it was nice to have people encouraging me and feel part of a team all supporting each other, which isn't something I usually have working out alone.
My leg started to shake uncontrollably at one point (an "Elvis leg," apparently), and I was clinging on for dear life.
The team were cheering me on and helped me when I felt I couldn't keep going or had no idea where to put my hands and feet.
The rock was slippery with moss and rain, and I was surprised by how out of breath I was.
But I did it!
Abseiling down afterwards felt like a treat. The climb had been a lot more difficult than expected.
The crag had looked simple from the ground, but was so much harder to climb than I'd expected.
Needless to say, I had a newfound respect for rock climbers after my first attempt.
Buoyed by our success, we were excited to tackle another crag (especially as Bartlett said it should be more beginner-friendly).
As Bartlett scrambled up to secure the rope at the top of the 49-foot-high crag in Hound Tor, we caught our breath and basked in the afterglow of our achievement.
I felt awesome succeeding at something I didn't think I could do at first.
Our second climb was easier, but twice as high.
This climb felt a lot less scary and a lot more fun than the previous one, given there were points you could actually stop without having to cling on to the rock to stop yourself falling.
As one of my movements was described as a "beached whale," I realized my technique left something to be desired.
While trying to get myself up on to a ledge midway up the crag, Bartlett suggested I perform a movement akin to a muscle-up (a gym movement I cannot yet do). This not seeming achievable to me, I got myself up like someone struggling to get out of a pool. Or like a whale, apparently.
But I completed the climb!
Abseiling down was harder and slightly scarier this time, mostly because I was higher, but I managed it.
I felt such a sense of achievement afterwards.
The wind was really strong but the sun was also making an appearance, which was a lovely way to end our adventure.
While the scrambling was fun, it was the climbing that had provided the real thrill of the morning, because I failed a few times before I succeeded.
I felt proud for doing something that broadened my horizon.
Climbing was physical in ways I hadn't expected.
While this may have been partly due to my lack of technique, I was covered in bruises and scratches after the climbing. Immediately afterwards, my hands and fingertips hurt a lot, and later on, I could tell that my whole upper body had been braced.
I was exhausted, but I had a great time. A large lunch, shower, and tick check later, I was ready to crash.
Being part of a team and helping each other was really fun, and getting active in such a striking setting was amazing.
Climbing on Dartmoor isn't realistically something I can do on my own or before work every morning like my gym trips, but my adventure has definitely inspired me to explore the world around me and try new activities more often.
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