Once more unto the lockdown…

Vovid-19

I think we all saw it coming, even before the details began to leak out late on Friday night. Influential voices from the worlds of science and politics had been clamouring for a temporary lockdown, a ‘circuit beak’, since well before the half-term holidays.

Image from The Guardian

So, here we are again. Let’s hope that it’s not too little too late.

I can confirm that both The Castle Climbing Centre itself and therefore Geckos Climbing Ltd will be closed from Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December 2020. If you have a session booked with Geckos between those dates we will shortly be in contact with you to rearrange it after the reopening or, if you prefer, issue a full refund.

The Prime Minister insisted that the lockdown will end on 2 December, though Michael Gove has already suggested it may need to go on longer. We shall see. In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone for their continued support. We all very much look forward to resuming all our kids’ climbing activities just as soon as we can.

If you’d like to get in touch, please use our contact form.

Covid-19 and climbers’ chalk

Chalky hands
Frictionlabs chalk, available from The Castle Shop

In the spring, as climbing centres closed in line with the initial lockdown, rumours abounded that climbers’ chalk could be a source of transmitting particles of the virus, fomites, to use the jargon.

However, more recent research would suggest that these early fears were misguided. Investigations by a team at De Montfort University suggests that, on the contrary, chalk may actually help to prevent transmission. A statement has been issued by the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC):

A model coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2, human coronavirus OC43, was used for the experiments. The presence of infectious virus on a plastic surface dusted with chalk was monitored over the course of one hour. The results indicated that the amount of infectious virus was reduced by around 99% immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces. By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present, showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over these time periods.

Read the ABC press release

What about liquid chalk?

Traditional liquid climbing chalk chalk contains less than 70% alcohol, so it is below the minimum level required to kill Coronavirus. New forms of liquid chalk have a higher percentage, but the latest research suggests that it is no more effective. A chemist charged to investigate the issue concluded that:

[Liquid chalk] is completely ineffective in killing any potential viruses on the climber’s hands, and more importantly, on the holds on the wall.

Read the full report on liquid chalk and Covid-19

Conclusion…

While powder chalk may help to limit transmission, it is important to stick to the three things that we know to be effective:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based gel for at least 20 seconds
  • Wear a mask (over your mouth and nose) wherever and whenever possible
  • Maintain social distance

London moves to Tier 2

Level of infections in London, October 2020

As of Saturday 17 October 2020, London is to be moved from Tier 1 into Tier 2, a response to the recent rise in infections in the capital. Parents of children who climb with our regular kids’ club and prospective customers may be concerned at the impact of the myriad new rules and guidelines. However, for the moment, we can continue to provide climbing activities to children and young people.

The stipulations, as they appear on the government’s website, are as follows:

In line with guidelines from national sporting bodies, you can take part in sport and physical activity outdoors.
Organised indoor exercise classes are only permitted if it is possible for people to avoid mixing in with people you do not live with or share a support bubble with. There are exceptions to enable disability and youth sport and physical activity indoors, in any number.

If you would like to know more, the Association of British Climbing Walls has a FAQ page.

Obviously, to minimise the risk to the children in our care and to our staff, we will continue to follow The Castle’s social distancing and hygiene policies set out in an earlier blogpost.

Geckos alumni: Rachel

Geckos enjoying a trip to Stanage Edge

Rachel climbed with Geckos for two intervals: the first as a 9 year old, the second as a teenager. She now works as the Comment and Features Editor of a London newspaper and appears regularly on television discussing the media (and cats). Here is her beautifully written and inspirational account of climbing with us and what she got out of it.

Old habits die hard! Rachel still climbing trees in 2020.

I started rock climbing age six. It was inevitable really – I’d been attempting to climb things (boulders, trees, walls) since I could stand, and as my parents hadn’t been able to stop me, they figured I should probably be taught to do it properly. I never stopped. From the week Geckos was founded (I was one of the original class) until today, rock climbing has been a constant in my life. It has taken me all over from the world – from the slabs of Burbage North in the Peak District, to the sheer faces of the Swiss Alps, to the cliffs of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam.

It’s been over a decade since I was officially a Gecko, but the years I spent training with Richard Baxell and his group of instructors instilled in me the skills and confidence that have enabled me to sling on a belay harness and start scrambling wherever I am in the world. No tree or boulder is safe. People think of rock climbing as a solitary sport, exercise for people who don’t like teams. The opposite is true. In what other sport are you trusting your teammates not just with winning, but with your life? From day one I was taught that belaying was far more important than climbing, and that safety was paramount. From before I could read or write, I was learning about trust, responsibility, and discipline. Those are lessons any parent should want to instil in their child from an early age.

As an adult, rock climbing has never been just about fitness – it’s an exercise in problem solving, in confidence, and in resilience. There is no opponent, just you and the rock and your own assessment of what you can do. Of all the sports I’ve ever tried, it’s the only one which engages my brain as much as my body, and the exhilaration at reaching the top of a rock face that looked utterly insurmountable is an adrenaline rush like no other. There is no feeling like gazing down at the ground from 1,000 feet and knowing that you got up there with just your own two feet and ten fingers. What other workout enables you to see the world from an entirely new perspective?

Geckos, The Castle and Covid-19

The Corona virus

Finally, finally Geckos is getting back to (some kind of) normal. It’s been a difficult few months for everyone. We are now taking bookings for personal tuition and taster sessions and the kids’ club will be reopening in mid-September. Hopefully climbing parties will return soon after that.

Not surprisingly, while the pandemic is still with us, things are going to look a little different. A number of changes have been made in order to limit potential transmission between anyone in the climbing centre. While evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of children experience few, if any, serious symptoms, we are erring on the side of caution. After all, children interact with adults at home and at school who have a greater chance of becoming seriously ill, if infected.

The Association of British Climbing Walls, who publish a regular Covid update on their website, have been taking the lead and clearly both the Centre itself and Geckos will follow their advice. Their guidelines will probably need to remain in place until there is an effective, widely-available vaccine or treatment. Key changes include the following:

  • A limit on the maximum number of people in the Centre at any one time
  • Maximum numbers in specific areas
  • A one-way system within the building
  • 2m distance between climbers
  • The use of face-masks for anyone not climbing, including belayers and instructors
  • A reduced number of courses
  • Smaller groups and shorter sessions
  • No cafeteria or communal water-fountains
A useful reminder

In addition, all communal surfaces will continue to be cleaned regularly, particularly the rental and teaching equipment. While it’s clearly not going to be feasible to individually clean all of the thousands of climbing holds or even the ropes, antiseptic hand-gel is provided at reception and hand-washing facilities are available around the building. Efficient ventilation is also useful; fortunately The Castle Climbing Centre benefits from very high ceilings and a sophisticated aeration system.

If you have any concerns, comments or suggestions, please get in touch using the form below.

Geckos alumni: Louis

Louis & George

Louis Parkinson climbed with Geckos as a teenage during the 2000s. Having been a member of the GB climbing team, he regularly competes in competitions and coaches at a number of different centre. I bumped into him in early 2020 in Walthamstow’s new climbing gym, Yonder.

Louis doing his thing…


Hello Louis, nice to see you again. What are you up to at the moment?

I’m currently working as a professional coach, though I still train hard to enter competitions and attempt my projects outdoors.

When and why did you first take up climbing?

I first tried climbing when I was 13 years old. My younger sister was turning 11 and my parents (correctly) thought that a rock-climbing birthday party at the local climbing centre would be an exciting option. I was TERRIBLE at it … in fact, I got stuck at the top of the wall on my first attempt, and cried in front of all my little sister’s friends! Despite the less-than-ideal beginning, I was hooked immediately, and rapidly became obsessed with climbing.   

What did you enjoy about climbing with Geckos and what did you get out of it? How long did you climb with Geckos?

Climbing with Geckos was critical to my development as a climber. Over the years I climbed with Geckos, I learned ALL the necessary skills to keep myself safe while at the climbing centre and rapidly developed my technical skills for movement and problem solving while on the wall. Richard Baxell was one of the kindest and most patient teachers I have had in any discipline or subject, and I feel truly lucky to have had him as a guide in my early years of climbing.

Does learning to climb (or climbing itself) have any transferable skills?

Absolutely! Climbing fosters a growth-mindset, and through it I have learned to be persistent, to have confidence, to solve problems by working with others, and to be patient in my hard work. I have slowly grown in to a well adjusted, self-confident and happy adult, and I would credit my experiences within climbing and the friends I made within the community with the majority of this development.

What advice would you give to children who are thinking of getting into climbing, or have just started?

Get started!! You’ll do things you never thought yourself capable of, you’ll become physically and mentally stronger than you thought possible, and none of it ever will feel like hard work because you’ll be having SO MUCH FUN doing it! Plus, you’ll make loads of great friends and have a reason to travel to some beautiful places around the world.

What do you enjoy about climbing?

This is a difficult question to answer as I have so much to say here! For me, climbing is so many things; it’s my community, it’s now provided me with a job I love, it keeps me in fantastic shape and is my constant source of fun and excitement. I think one of the most useful things I get from climbing is that I have a hobby which continually forces me to be incredibly mindful in my practice – almost like a form a moving meditation.

What’s next for Louis Parkinson?

I’m really excited about the years to come! To be honest though, I’ll just be doing more of the same: training, competing, coaching and travelling, but constantly aiming for bigger and better than I have in the past!

Geckos alumni: Doug

Doug joined Geckos with his best friend when they were both boisterous nine year olds. Doug’s parents had understandably been keen (desperate) to find an activity through which they could direct his exuberance and energy. That he would try to climb anything in sight probably made their decision an easy one.

Douglas Duncan
Doug

Doug is now one of our most popular instructors, no doubt because he’s still over-flowing with exuberance and energy and still determined to climb anything in sight. He has been instrumental in helping provide an opportunity for some of the older Geckos (and ex-Geckos) to build on their skills, by organising summer climbing trips to northern Spain.

Geckos t shirts

Kids traversing in Geckos shirts

We have a small number of the popular Geckos t shirts still available. Made by Earth Positive, they come in good quality, machine-washable cotton. They come in two sizes, age 9-10 and age 11-12 and in a variety of colours. Only £15.00 each.

Kids in shirts
Geckos and proud

Available colours:

  • Age 9-10: Kelly Green, Bright Blue or Red.
  • Age 11-12: Kelly Green, Light Blue or Red.

We also have a few remaining hoodies in size 9-10, available in either Melange Grey or Red. Only £27.50 each.

Please for details.

T shirt colours (not all are currently available)

Rick Abbott R.I.P.

Rick Abbott on top of the world

It is with great sadness that I share news of the death of the Mountain Leader and Instructor Rick Abbott, aged 74. Without his work and support Geckos and The Castle would certainly not be the businesses that they are today.

Between 1997 and 2010, Rick was – among many other things – the technical advisor for The Castle, overseeing the centre’s health and safety and delivering technical workshops to the Centre’s instructors. I was fortunate enough to be one of them and I’ll always be grateful for his support, encouragement and, above all, his humour.

Rick Abbott leading an ML training course in Dartmoor, August 2004
Doing what he did best: Rick running an MLTB mountain-leader training course in Dartmoor, August 2004

At his funeral at Barnstable in North Devon on 2 March 2020, the crematorium was packed with people from the worlds of climbing, mountaineering and canoeing. Sad though the day undoubtedly was, it was good to see so many making the effort to show their respects to Rick, known only as ‘Abbo’ to many of his friends. The ranks of down jackets and bright outdoor clothing (as Rick had requested) spoke volumes of the deep affection and respect in which he was held.

It might be a cliché to talk of ‘a life well lived’, but it’s difficult to deny that Rick always lived his life to the full, always did his utmost to help and encourage others to do likewise, and always looked on the bright side of life.

Rick Abbott scrambling in Snowdonia 2006
Scrambling in Snowdonia, May 2006

Rick Abbott, mountaineering guide and instructor, 1946-2020.

AALS licensing application

Stanage Edge

Geckos is in the process of putting together an application for a license from the Adventure Activities Licensing Service to teach unsupervised groups outdoors (rather then requiring parents/guardians to attend). All being well, we hope to take our first unsupervised group to the Peak in the summer of 2020.

Coronavirus update

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the process of obtaining a license has had to be put on hold. Once the situation begins to return to (some sort of) normal, we will re-activate the application. Realistically, we’re unlikely to be able to take out unsupervised groups until the spring or summer of 2021, at the earliest.

Hang in there!