Deep breath. Check skin. Grip the hold. Toe down. Keep the tension. Next hold. Next foothold. Look up, blue sky. Look down. Ignore finger pain. Next hold. Next foothold. Keep the tension. Forearm pump. What’s the next move? Blank mind. Tension lost. Panic. Lunge. Wide eyes. Hit the pad. Chalk cloud

Welcome to Rocklands. 

I started my rock climbing journey in October, 2018 when a friend invited me to climb at Bloc 11. My only exposure to the sport had been prep school birthday parties at other climbing gyms. Those memories were largely a haze of sugar and yelling so I didn’t really know what to expect of rock climbing as an adult. 
In truth, I was quite intimidated and had to give myself a pep talk in the car before walking into the gym. “Just do your best”, I told myself. Nothing more, nothing less. Over time, this would become my guiding principle in climbing, the meaning of which was ever changing.


That first session was a blur of orange holds, Elvis legs and arm pump. I tried hard, scared myself and came away with a deep sense of satisfaction. Within a week, I had a fresh new pair of shoes and a Bloc membership.

Progress was swift, measured in the number of problems of a particular colour I could climb and the number of flappers on my hands. I would proudly display them to friends and family, proof that I was now ‘A Rock Climber’

Well, sort of.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the ‘rock’ part of ‘rock climber’. 


One could even argue, it is the integral part of the title. A description of place, an indication synergy between non-sentient and sentient. I was climbing on plastic. Over time, I began to feel I wasn’t really a rock climber after all, I was more a gym rat. Coddled by the plastic holds moulded to fit one’s hands, lulled into a false sense of security and prowess by the safety mats stretching out in my peripheral vision.


There was no overt labelling of me as ‘not a rock climber’. That is to say, no-one ever told me in as many words. The feeling grew over time, as I overheard conversations between sun- and windburned climbers, talking about their weekend projects. These climbers moved with a swagger in the gym, nonchalantly warming up on problems I could only dream of climbing, before cruising through the hardest problems


Holy shit, I wanted to be like them.

The implicit assumption here, as you can probably see, is that outdoor climbing is harder than indoor. Indeed, it has a completely different set of rules. For one, the grading system is different. 

In 2021, after a couple of years of climbing (2020 doesn’t really count), I was comfortably ensconced in Bloc’s own grading system. I had gradually progressed through the coloured grades in the gym. So gradually, in fact, that I had to periodically remind myself that I would have viewed my current level as impossible just a year before. However, as is probably natural in a sport where the objective is to get to the top, I was far more focused on progression than on where I had been. And the next step seemed obvious now; I needed to climb outdoors.




Gym Photographs Credit: Eelo Enous

Check out more of his work on his Instagram handle: @eelo.e

Enter the Bloc 11 Climbing and Yoga Retreat of June 2021.

The idea of having experienced climbers on hand to guide my first proper experience of climbing outdoors appealed to me. I had gone up to Rocklands twice before with my Dad and brother but the attempts at bouldering were faltering at best. It seemed too overwhelming and unknowable.
Grades didn’t help matters much. First, I didn’t really know what grade was ‘on my level’, and second, the ‘easier’ grade in the guidebook didn’t always translate to what I was actually seeing. 

With all this in my head, I tried to go into the retreat with one thought, “Do your best”.


 The first couple of problems on proper rock felt like that first session back in 2018. My eyes were wide, my heart was pumping and I could barely keep my leg from shaking after topping out. To my surprise, I was doing far better than I thought I would. 


I would end that first day by climbing the 6C problem on ‘Perfect’, a boulder I took one look at and thought, “Hell no.” Suffice it to say, I was chuffed. In an odd sort of way, however, it was then all downhill from there. 

On the second day of climbing, I hopped on Girl on Our Mind’, a perennial 6B+  favourite that all new climbers look to mark their progress by. I managed it second go, but the high was nowhere near that of the day before. In the back of my mind a voice was saying “You could’ve flashed that”. 

Expectations had shifted, just like that. Somehow, the mantra of “Do your best” had suddenly morphed into “That’s not good enough”.

What I learnt from that June Retreat, and the following one in October, is that when it comes to real rock, progression is not linear. Cruising a crimpy 6C+ one moment, only to flail about on a powerful 6A shortly afterwards.

Nothing is a given.

It got me wondering that perhaps I had misread those swaggering sunburnt climbers. It was not that they had tapped into some mythical physical human potential through communing with rocks by smearing chalk over them. Rather, they approached each problem in the gym with humility, an acceptance that your best is a moving target. It is easy to get lost in the idea of endless progression and grading systems tap right into that impulse.

I resolved to focus more on the joyful movement of climbing. On feeling that strength, balance and poise in my body as I moved from one hold to another, regardless of being on an easy warm up or an on-the-limit problem. I returned to Rocklands in October on the next Bloc 11 Retreat. This time, I felt I understood the connection between the yoga practice and climbing on a far deeper level. This time, I enjoyed trying hard on everything, conscious of the interaction between the movement of my body and immovable rock. At the end of each day, I felt a sense of peace that I had not experienced earlier in June.

Ultimately, the experience I had at the two Bloc retreats taught me acceptance. Your best does not have measure against someone else’s. It should not even be measured against grading systems. I have started to accept that progression is not always linear or obvious at the time. 


Climbing in general has been an exhilarating, frustrating, self-reflexive and humbling experience for me and I have loved every moment of it so far. Long may it continue.