Climbing is something that should come intuitively to us, given that we have all evolved from apes. And as the apes around have evolved from climbing trees in jungles to swinging across buildings and apartments in the cities, so have humans.
Now you, human, have you ever thought about climbing an underpass/ flyover, a random grilled fence or stone wall? Or does it sound too crazy?
You will be surprised to know that Urban climbing is a thing. It altogether is a very unique and different form of climbing, where you climb structures around your city, one building or another, one flyover or another. It is something new, something still unexplored, and there is a lot of curiosity around to know or experience it. Not sure about you but it sure did get my curiosity piping.
It's nothing like climbing a 50 to 60 feet rock face or a big boulder or an indoor climbing gym, where we are safely secured in a harness or are climbing above a crash pad. And the last lockdown I gave it a try. And to tell you the truth, this sport gave me a thrill like no other. I must not admit it so openly, but it did. And so today I am taking the initiative to write down the post on urban climbing in Dehradun.
Maybe some of you might want to join the gang!
WHAT is Urban Climbing
Google says - Buildering (also known as urban climbing, structuring, and boulding) describes the act of climbing on the outside of a building and other artificial structures. The word buildering is a combination of the word building with the climbing term bouldering.
Now, the thought about climbing buildings is intriguing isn't it? And the very next question you might have is, is it safe? To answer your question, if buildering is done without ropes or protection far off the ground, it is extremely dangerous. It is often practised outside legal bounds and is thus mostly undertaken at night. Late night has a different aura to it, and climbing up flyovers with fewer vehicles and no cops has its own charm I have to admit. (Unless you are in Goa, there the cops are especially active during the night, so maybe try buildering during the day)
So, this all started a long time ago. Once upon a time, in 1895, a great alpinist Geoffrey Winthrop Young started climbing the roof of Cambridge University in England. Students had been scrambling up the university buildings for years, but Young was the first to document this activity. He went ahead and wrote and published a buildering guide to Trinity College Cambridge.
There has been no stopping since then for this little gang of builderers. From 1915 to 1920, buildering in New York City reached its peak. So bad in fact that after 1920, the city authorities had to outlaw buildering. During this era, several daredevils climbed the tall buildings but yes, several of them did meet with serious injuries and accidents.
Having been born and brought up in Dehradun, I have seen it change a lot in the last two decades since it became the capital of Uttarakhand in 2000. More buildings, four-lane highways, many underpasses and flyover projects have changed the landscape of the city, especially in the last five years.
I would climb trees, mountains but then suddenly only buildings were around. I had to go an hour away to get to the mountains and good trees. Things certainly were changing.
And then came 2020. I had started rock climbing a few months prior to the lockdown, during the pre-Covid era and then suddenly the entire world went into a daze. Things changed drastically too soon and everyone had to try looking for ways to keep themselves safe and healthy both mentally and physically.
I saw many #fitnesschallenges that were trending on social media at that time. I did try a few of them but it didn't really work for me. The thrill of climbing that I had just begun experiencing a few months back was fresh in my mind and I started looking for places to climb in Dehradun. Unfortunately, I did not find any climbing area then.
Then came the day. The day I saw the side of the flyover next to my place. It had many joineries both vertically and horizontally. My mind started working, could I climb this flyover? Should I climb it vertically or traverse horizontally?
That night I went ahead and tried both. And let me tell you, it WASN'T easy. Those thin cracks got my forearms pumped, but that was what I was looking for. And after I tried that, I got home and looked online, to see if this thing was an actual thing. It was, and so I started seeing videos and started reading about them.
I religiously started climbing every morning for a few weeks and created a project for myself. To slowly go across more joinery, to move more, to cover greater areas day by day, to cling on longer. I will also shamelessly admit that I didn't own a crash pad at that time when I would try to traverse the flyover. So the thrill, the adrenaline helped me deal with the pandemic both physically and mentally.
For me, urban climbing felt like a new way of meditation, while being surrounded by many unknown eyes. I know it's crazy, how can you meditate or feel calm in the centre of a city, but you feel so connected to the climb, you stay focused and calm at the same time. It also helped me understand how important it is to improvise in crises.
Now I have my crash pad and we are going through a lockdown again. It is time for improvisation, don't you think?
Urban climbing often was practised as a solo sport, but of late it is becoming a popular group activity. With university groups coming up and taking this as an activity all across the US, Canada, Russia and Europe, routes are being established and graded for difficulty. Safety measures are also being taken care of and people are using crash pads, ropes and harnesses sometimes and climbing in the group.
Many great climbers have tried their hand in urban climbing too, one of them is Adam Ondra from the Czech Republic, a professional rock climber. Rock and Ice magazine described Ondra in 2013 as a prodigy and leading climber of his generation. Here is the link to his urban climbing video and his thoughts on it.
A group of local climbers from Montreal have been developing urban climbing to the next level in their community. One of the resourceful videos to know about urban climbing, have a look.
Hit me up if you want to know more or try something of this sort. We can start with a balcony railing or the staircase. And then maybe move on to a brick/stone wall!
See you soon.