I have always wanted to get into climbing, but where I live in the UK there are no climbing walls nearby. Coming to Montpellier for my French immersion stay then was the perfect opportunity to finally give it a go; some of my friends mentioned that they were keen to try it out too, so soon we were on the tram to Boulder Line gym in the north of Montpellier.
When we arrived, the receptionist fitted us out with climbing shoes and checked our student IDs from ILA French Language School, so we could get our student discount. We were then let loose on the bouldering wall, and started with the easiest routes, the yellow ones. I’ve only ever done climbing where you’re attached to a rope, so there’s not really any fear that you might fall, but bouldering was definitely a new, scarier sensation. Although you know that it’s safe, when you’re halfway up the climbing wall it’s difficult to reassure yourself that the crash mats won’t hurt if you fall.
One of my friends was French, and also happened to be an ex-climbing instructor, which was very useful for both my French and my climbing ability! Even when I was four meters up from the ground, I was still having to think about how to communicate in French and ask for guidance. A few times when I was stuck on a tricky route other French people in the gym would call out to me and give me advice on where to place my hands and feet. There was absolutely no judgement there and it just felt like everyone wanted everyone else to succeed, from my friends and I trying to get to grips with the easiest routes, to people I saw literally jumping from one spot to another. This also made it a really low-pressure way to practise my French, as everyone was so friendly and willing to help out.
My friends and I had a go at this one tricky route for ages, but none of us could manage to get to the top. I was stuck at this one point for what felt like ages, with my French friend telling me ‘il faut que tu croies’ (you have to believe). Although cheesy, this was definitely true – as I soon found out, you need to take risks when climbing, and believe you can do things that your body thinks are impossible. With his advice in mind, I finally managed to make it past the tricky point and from then on it was easy to the top. Looking down, I started to realise why some people are in love with this sport. The sense of satisfaction when you manage to succeed is unbeatable. As my friend was telling us, climbing is mostly just technique – once you realise where to put your feet and how to angle your body for a specific route, it doesn’t really matter if your upper body strength is almost non-existent (like mine). By the end, I felt like I really understood that it was just a case of problem solving – though, saying that, after we finished I couldn’t feel my arms for the next three days.
I definitely want to go again, to make the most of my time here during my French courses. It was also a few hours where I exclusively spoke French, so was a great opportunity to practise outside of classes at the language school. The Hérault region has a lot of beautiful rock climbing sites, so I would really love to try outdoor climbing one day – who knows, maybe one day I’ll be writing a blog post about an actual climbing excursion!