Making the Grade Part 1

Monday, 15 March 2021

Mark Cobb MTG pt1 Cover

Mark looking for his next grip


Part 1 of 5


‘Why don’t we try a lie down start?’

My son and I, taking turns.

Right hand up to the crimp, a good one! Left hand on a crumbling sloper, a bad one! Right foot above my head on an average foothold about 3 feet away and left leg flagging!

Feet above head is never my most comfortable climbing style!

Next move, with half an eye on the huge spider lurking menacingly beneath the undercut base of the crag. Taking turns, trading thoughts on the sloper and the spider; good first go, terrible second go. We both managed the move up to another good crimp on our third go, a satisfying heel hook and rockover seamlessly and almost without thought, sliding into position. Didn’t think we could do that problem, it only worked from the lie down start!

Next a sit start from two really poor slopers, (aren’t they always) one foot on a very high heel hook and the other leg suspended in the nettles. Another lovely boulder problem; success being matched by the intensity of the nettle stings and the shin scrapes. My wife and daughter tried it next. More nettles, more stings.

No guide book, no idea of grades, or what the problems were. Just rock, family, incredible views, a gentle breeze, a beautiful sun-drenched day and not a single other soul on the rock!

A climbing Cobb

Cleeve Hill.

I had never been there.

I had no expectations and didn’t think we’d really get much out of it. But, after the trauma of the lockdown and no outdoor climbing, it was heaven. We laughed, chilled, fell off, experimented, grazed shins, escaped from spiders, watched sheep and had our own little adventure. Grades were definitely off the menu that day, but it didn’t matter. Suffused with the joy of being together, the joy of movement, the joy of being.

‘To boulder is to feel what a body can do,’ Francis Sanzaro said in his book on the philosophy of bouldering.

We skipped back to the car filled with that hard to describe mix of tiredness, fulfilment and satisfied excitement.

Later I mulled over how it had compared with days of chasing specific problems and grades on Peak gritstone. My son and I often search out likely problems and share a secret desire to climb the hardest lines we can, with constant reference to the guidebooks (even though I’ve committed every problem to memory).

Written by Mark Cobb, Climbing Ambassador for Brookes Climbing Wall. I would like to thank Simon Rawlinson, Niall Grimes and Katherine Schirrmacher for their wonderful contributions to this article. As ever, thanks to Johnny Dawes for his constant inspiration and motivation.

If you would like to have a go at climbing, why not contact our climbing wall at Oxford Brookes University Centre for Sport in Headington. For more information about climbing or email

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