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To be a Dirtbag

Words by Elliot Mawson.

Climbing has changed so much over such a short amount of time, splitting up into a number of forks; trad, boulder, sport, to name a few. Ambasssador, Eliot, looks into how the term ‘Dirt bag’ has changed, and what it means to him.

Everyone knows that timeless photo of Fred Beckey, dressed in a crumpled t-shirt with an
old rope thrown around his shoulders, a helmet sat atop of his unkempt head, holding up a
battered cardboard sign with ‘Will Belay For Food’ scrawled in pencil.

Beckey epitomised the life of a dirt-bag

Living, literally out of his bag – hitchhiking, walking and climbing his way around Yosemite National Park. Even after his death in 2017, Beckey’s life is admired, maybe even with jealousy, by climbers around the globe. He was the true
spirit of a dirtbagger, living life in a sleeping bag and in the same wrecked set of clothes. It became an aspiration, and climbers wanted to do just, and only that, climb.

Steve Rhodes – Albarracin

The introduction of Climbing into the 2021 Tokyo olympic games is inarguably a dramatic
step for the sport. Climbing heroes like Shauna Coxey, Janja Garnbret and Adam Ondra (among so many other talented athletes) have been pulled from walls and crags and thrust
into the electric spotlight of mainstream sport. Even Kevin Hart and Snoop-Dogg were trying
their hand at climbing lingo (which is a great clip if you haven’t seen it, by the way). Never
before has climbing been so easily recognised on a worldwide stage, and the original principles of dirt-bags set by Beckey and other heroes may be forgotten. Recently, climbers have been able to train relentlessly in gyms during the week, and head out into the outdoors on weekends and send, no longer needing to live at the crag, and spend hours attempting a single project. While the olympics is a new and exciting prospect for climbing, enticing more WAD’s to try
their hand at it and perhaps causing more development of areas; it may be diluting this original idea of a ‘dirt-bag’, there is no longer any need to live on the edge of primitivity, in a
banged up van or battered car, as crags can easily be found all over, and many are even accessible via public transport routes. However, while this is a new step for the sport, I do not think that it’s entirely negative.

So, what does it mean to be a dirt-bag?

Are they all smelly, unwashed and unshaven adventurers?

I don’t think so, no. For me, a dirtbagger is merely someone who enjoys life in the great outdoors. They don’t have to be gnarled and unkempt, with hair that falls in knots around their ankles, or with armpits that smell so bad they could knock out a herd of elephants, they just have to understand the almost laughable absurdity of a grinding life stuck in a loop of work. The monotonous 9-5 with only a weekend to break it up. The Monday where we must once again don our suits, button up our shirts and plod in synchronicity with the rest of humanity to work.

The new wave of psyched athletes trying their hand at climbing may help shift this worldwide addiction to routine and structure. Why should we have to work every-day? Why should we spend our evenings panicking over overdue deadlines? Climbing teaches us to see life for how it is, shows us that a happy mind is far more important than a heavy wallet. And, if the Olympics broadcasts this sport that can usher in so many into a more peaceful mind and way of life, so be it. In a desperate attempt not to sound preachy, maybe the life of a Dirt-bagger is exactly what is needed in the non-stop bombardment of 21st century life.

Dirt-bags understand the insanity of this life of work, and aim to dilute it with time in the Great Outdoors, whether that be around work, around school, or even quitting and going all the way – living out of a car with a gas stove and a never-ending fountain of psyche.

James Dickinson and Karly Green – Appleby

I believe a dirt-bag is just someone who understands the innate human need for a life outside

Whether that’s a scratty boulderer from Yorkshire, a fell runner from Scotland, or an incredibly accomplished mountaineer like Fred Beckey. They all have one thing in common. Simply ; they love the outdoors.

H. Dickinson – Lockdown back garden camping

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Otter Life: cycle touring Scotland

by Elizabeth Stephenson

My bike is called Otter, she’s been my faithful companion for a number of years now, mainly for commuting. However, earlier this summer we took the rather deep plunge together of going on a cycle tour.

My main sports are climbing and fell/trail/ultra-running (anything that involves an excuse to walk uphill essentially) so cycle touring was a rather new adventure. I’m not fully sure where the idea to give it a go came from; I think I just decided it looked quite fun. Fast forward to the start of July, and I found myself on a ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye with a friend from the climbing club at uni cajoled along for the ride. (I later discovered he’d done some cycling holidays before, not as novice as he let on!) The original plan had been to cycle up the Outer Hebrides, and then back down the West Coast, however due to my inability to book ferries until the week before and some uncertainty around dates due to graduations, we had to reverse the direction to be able to make the crossings work. I think it ended up better though, with the harder West Coast out the way, allowing for a more relaxed second half.

The first day of cycling started well although I swiftly realised that one packet of tortellini for dinner was not enough to fill me up.

I had several moments where I felt a bit overwhelmed by the task ahead of me, with my mind frequently wandering to the thought of ‘it’s ok, I could just cycle back to the car within a day’; but once we’d crossed the Bealach na Bà at Applecross (the highest mountain pass in the UK, a great one for your first day of cycle touring….I hope you can hear the sarcasm) those thoughts were quickly dispelled as there was no way I was going back over. With 55 miles and a decent amount of ascent, fish and chips at the bottom never tasted so good and the yellow weather warnings that had accompanied us up the motorway didn’t make their appearance until the evening,

Over the next few days, we wound our way up the West Coast, eating massive dinners (although I kept eating my breakfast when I woke up in the middle of the night) and trying to dodge the midges. Poolewe was a particularly stunning spot with our first proper bit of sun and a wash in the sea, I wrote a couple of snippets whilst sitting on the rocks by the shore.

“Oyster catches peeling the setting sky open with their calls. The sun glinting through the intricate lace of clouds draping the bay, handsewn together by the weather; wind for the holes, rain for the pattern and sun to bleach it white. The sharp distinctive tang of seaweed tickles my nose as I watch the waders in their teeniest of pitter patters flit across the shore.”

Throughout the next week we crossed from Ullapool (if you haven’t been to the Seafood Shack there and had their haddock wrap, especially when you forgot to buy breakfast the day before, then I’m not sure you’ve lived) to Stornoway on the Outer Hebrides and gently settled into the rhythm of cycle touring. At times I found it a little stressful, half an eye always kept on looming rain clouds, wondering whether I needed to pack away the optimistic solar charger slung over my panniers. Other times my body felt attuned to the weather and the lie of the land, the hills a statement, something requiring further effort from my legs accompanied by a thin film of sweat. A rather different method of travel to merely pressing harder on the right-hand pedal.

Our first night on the Outer Hebs was a wee bit tragic, and the lowest point of the trip. With no decent spots on the road heading north late at night after the ferry got in, we ended up on some rocks and between concrete blocks by a fishing lock. The midges nearly exsanguinated us, and breached the tent, meaning I slept in a head net for the night. Singing to myself was required to distract from how grim the current predicament was.

The rest of the week however was a gorgeous meander down the Hebridean Way. A medley of calligraphic beaches bordered by mountains, and evenings spent by the sea, watching the oyster catchers thread the tide line. We washed in the sea most evenings, a rhythm I delighted in and found brought me in step with the pace of the journey. North Uist even spoilt us with an afternoon of roaring sunshine, and I bobbed about in the sea with my eyes shut against the reflected light, feeling on the cusp of merging into the seascape that held me.

I wrote a little poem while we were on Luskentyre beach, it’s nothing much but here goes:


Cycle touring as a method of travel surprised me in many ways.

The slower pace made each day feel like it spanned at least two, or three, because it gave me time to notice the area around me in greater depth than I’ve previously experienced. It also leaves you more open to interaction with people, where the necessity of a car door otherwise creates an obvious barrier. Greetings and smiles from those in their gardens, accompanied by passing enquires about our journey’s start and end, lent a feeling of community on the road.

Our final day of cycling saw us ploughing through a heavy headwind all day, and exhausted we finally made it to Lochboisdale. A reminder that had the weather been in cahoots against us, the trip could have had a rather less relaxing feel. Our ferry back to Mallaig at early doors had an odd feeling to it, I’d got rather used to the routine of wake, cycle, swim in the sea and allowing the landscape to sustain me. Though I won’t fib it was nice to be in a bed having shared a tent that was too small to sit up in for two weeks!

With thanks to my friend for joining in on my idea and to Otter for having nothing go wrong mechanically as that really isn’t my area of expertise….


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A Climbing Mind: Breathing Power

Breathing Power – by Allan Evans

We often hear our fellow climbers reminding us to breathe when we are climbing, and, likewise, it is us shouting it up to the climber.

When we are climbing at our limit it can often be the first thing we forget about. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to breathe while climbing, or for just generally living. But I do want to explore just how important controlled breathing can be while climbing.

Breathing and particular types of breathing can help you manage your fears and anxieties – pre and during climbing. Regardless of what type of climbing we are doing it’s common to have anxious feelings at times, whether it be a fear of falling, of failure, of blowing an Onsight attempt on a route you have been saving for years! The list goes on.

A technique I came across in researching breathing techniques to use with my counselling clients was hacking the Vagus nerve.

What’s the Vagus nerve I hear you ask?

This nerve secretes a fluid which helps regulate our heart rate. As our body can’t distinguish the difference between what our mind is making up or what we are imagining, it responds to whatever story the mind is telling it.

Therefore, if we start getting fearful or anxious before a climb, our body responds. It elevates the heart rate and will produce adrenaline and a whole host of bodily functions are affected.

That explains the sweaty hands…

We can hack this nerve by performing longer exhalations, simply take a deep inbreath and on your outbreath make it slow and controlled and slightly longer than the inbreath. This stimulates the Vagus nerve and therefore slows down our heart rate, putting the body into a calm state.

Breathing deeply also has the added benefit of allowing more carbon dioxide to enter our blood stream, and having more carbon dioxide in our system slows down parts of the brain, including the amygdala, which is where fear is generated. Deep rhythmic breathing can also help us focus, when we get scared it takes our attention from the task at hand, to climb, to place protection well.

Do breathing techniques work?

In my own personal experience yes, they do. I can remember countless times on routes where I have been scared for whatever reason, a little voice in my head tells me to focus on breathing, in doing so I’m able to shift my attention back to climbing and continue.
Unfortunately, that little voice doesn’t always appear, and my fearful mind takes over, I hesitate, get pumped and either down climb or ask my belayer to take. I’m still working on using this powerful tool myself.

These breathing techniques can be used to help you manage your mind and body whilst climbing, including your fears. I am however not suggesting you should not be fearful, fear keeps us alive and stops us from hurting ourselves. Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity and managing your risk is your responsibility.
It’s science!

I have linked a few articles I used as inspiration, they go into greater detail about the techniques used as well as the science behind it all, it’s interesting stuff.

Thanks for checking out the first instalment of my blog, I hope you find using the power of the breath useful not just in climbing, also in your day-to-day life.

If you see me at a crag, say hello and let’s do some breathing together!



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The Road to ClimbMuz

Siddrah introduces us to her new intiative to get more Muslim women into indoor climbing and how ClimbMuz was born.

I started climbing in my early 20’s when a friend introduced me to Mile End Climbing wall. While they never went back I continued climbing on and off throughout the years. I spent a long time climbing by myself, I did feel self- conscious not because I felt I needed representation but because I felt as though in my mind I was being judged for being scared, I have a huge fear of falling so it took me about 8 years to reach the top of a V0. I enjoyed climbing so I would always go back.

Years later I went to a Muslim meetup social event.

A group of us started climbing socially once a week, it did not occur to me how we were a group of Muslims in a majority white environment, I did not think about representation. I just accepted it as part of the norm. We stopped climbing as a group, ‘life happens’ and I as usual carried on climbing, making more climbing friends, this time around the majority of them were from the white community. I was proud of myself for being in this environment. I became comfortable being a minority as it was aiding my growth.  Also, on the other side a small part of me never really understood why people needed familiarity, someone who looks like them. If someone wants to try climbing, why not just turn up. I hadn’t realised how much of a barrier lack of inclusivity and representation is for many people.

On the 18th of June 2020 I had a conversation with someone about being a minority on the climbing wall…

“I’m used to being the only minority amongst people I climb with, I’m okay with that as the people who inspire me are beautiful souls. I personally don’t feel like I need representation.I grew up in a very desi (a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth or descent who lives abroad) high population of ethnic minorities, for me having non South Asian friends who don’t climb has given me the opportunity to mix in with people and learn from other backgrounds that are not my own. That includes people from the white community. Hanging around with my white climbing friends moves me out of my comfort zone and broadens my experiences.”

I then realised that perhaps the lack of diversity in the climbing walls was down to lack of representation.

I wanted to make a change. My journey in all of this involved having conversations with people, tuning into Louis Parkinson’s takeover Tuesday stories and actually realising that not everyone feels comfortable or has the confidence to be a minority in a predominantly white environment. For some, seeing someone in climbing walls who has a disability, who is a visible Muslim or from a minority background might provide some comfort in that space. It will give them the confidence to take up climbing as a sport if they have the representation that they need.

I want everyone to feel comfortable in trying something new

Creating a inclusive, welcome space using events was the way I felt I could make a difference. It was in June of this year that I approached friends about spreading the word and increasing diversity in climbing walls, then at the beginning of July, ClimbMuz happened. I run groups at my local climbing wall and offer places to Muslim women who have never stepped foot in a climbing wall before. I have always been reluctant to be visible on social media primarily because it can come with a lot of unwanted attention, undesirable comments and trolls. However, alongside all of that there is the opportunity to create something truly magical, to inspire a whole new group of people, to try and tip the balance, which I believe far exceeds the negative.

To find out more about Siddrah and ClimbMuz – visit her on instragram, @Climbmuz and keep an eye out for upcoming events.

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Zoes goes carlife: five months in…

FIVE THINGS FOR FIVE MONTHS: A summer of #carlife.

FIVE MONTHS. I have lived in my car for… (nearly) Five. Months.

Three pot noodles, two dodgy encounters and one parking ticket later, I’ve watched the world go by out the boot of my Astra Estate. And now, I’m going to tell you about some of it.

Seatbelt up.

ONE. I’ve never eaten so many bagels.

I swear I’ve never seen a stale bagel. Whilst this should really make me question what could possibly be in them that they last forever, it actually just means they serve as a serious car-life staple. You get 5 in a bag – that’s 5 meals, boyo.

Soup and bagel. Lentil daal and bagel. Smashed avocado on a bagel. Cheese, tomato and hummus bagel sandwich. And for dessert? Nutella bagel.

Minimal cutlery is involved and the empty bag can be used as a bin. Occasionally you’ll find a toaster and it’ll be like winning the lottery. Bagels. That’s all I’m saying.

TWO. ‘Will someone hear me if I scream?’

Finding parking for the night is part of the fun. I love waking up to new scenes and listening to the gentle hum of the world outside – waves, gulls, rivers, songbirds, laughter – all tucked up in my little space.

No one knows I’m here, but I hear everything.

Unfortunately, that also means that I can only hear the car pulling up next to me at night and I have no idea of the occupants’ intentions. Did they see me get into the car? Was my laptop left in view during the day? Are those lads pulling donuts, were they drinking, and what if they crash into me?

It’s a difficult balance between finding spots that are far enough from the rowdier folk but also within earshot of people that might come to your rescue. And so I hear myself asking, ‘will someone hear me if I scream?’. It puts the safety aspect of this lifestyle into perspective. If it doesn’t quite sit right, if something is putting me off, then I don’t stay there. I won’t sleep anyway.

THREE. Keep a diary.

And in it, write down all those tiny little moments you see and swear you will remember but just won’t. Giving a university presentation from your driver’s seat. The lady who carries seashells in her makeshift face-mask basket. The boys on bicycles who offer you their freshly caught fish. The field rat that made off with your dropped tortellini. The first time you find out that Greggs does a VEGAN sausage, cheese and bean melt. The woman and son who quietly released a balloon and cheers-ed a tinnie for his friend that committed suicide, and the kind stranger that sat with them.

A lot is going on out there.

FOUR. Essentials.

Penknife. Sunglasses. Cushion. Window covers. Travel spoon. Toilet roll.

^^Your start-up kit for #carlife. I don’t think there is any generic situation (other than financial) that can’t be solved with the above items. Get creative. Challenges accepted.

FIVE. Relax, Zo, and figure it out later.

I tried to plan everything – where to park, what I was going to eat, when to shower, where is the nearest toilet. I tried to replicate normal house-life but just in a car.

As soon as I let this ideal go, everything seemed to work it out before I’d even realised it was a problem.

Accept that you won’t be eating full homecooked meals every night.

Accept that, even though you bought soap and a brush with only the best intentions, you will stash those dirty dishes until you next get to the sink at work.

Accept that you will try to use a She-Wee on your bed because you’re in too much of a public space to go outside, and you’ll hear it successfully going into the bottle but apparently you’ve used it at just the wrong angle that there’s suddenly a suspicious little wet patch just appeared on the duvet, and it’s already 11pm so there’s not much you can do about it, so a next-day shower and sheet-change will just have to do. You’ll survive.

Get ready to garner a whole new appreciation for the normally vertical activities such as getting dressed standing up and walking between rooms.

(SIX. Hangovers suck.)

‘nough said.

HashtagCarlife remains one of my best decisions. I plan to keep it going whilst the weather stays, and then go part-time for a while BECAUSE… *drumroll please*

Please enter, #CABINLIFE.

Catch up soon 😘

Zoe – @zoallin