We use crash pads, we wanted crash pads, we made crash pads.
We are so excited to present our first lot of boulder pads, made with love and using many different recycled and repurposed components, if you are looking for something unique, ethical, and ecofriendly – these are for you.
These boulder pads are made in small batches (storage space at a premium) and each one is completely unique.
How are they made? What aspects are recycled?
Made in our sewing room at our workshop in Gatebeck, the boulder pads are truly the brain child of James Dickinson. Using a design which blends new and old materials without scrimping on quality, the bases and sides are double stitched and made using 1000 denier water resistant fabric. Each top sheet is made carefully using fabric offcuts and remnants – rucksack front, caving jacket, tent outer, for example. We only use the best bits – but using all sorts means that every one is totally unique.
Here are our favourite upcycled aspects:
The Fat One
Laden with bags, kids, and pads? Dream of strolling round Font (other bouldering circuits are available) without having to fully pack up heavy pads and rucksacks each time you move blocs?
This small, but thick pad is on the lighter side, folds in two, taco-style and is carried like a satchel. Snacks, guide books and shoes can be shoved in the centre for moving without dropping out of the bottom. It works well on its own or in addition with your current pad. Being just 100cm long, it means it can fit in the middle of the longer ones on the market (it snugly fits in our Moon Warrior pad). Alternatively, it fits happily rolled up within our thin pad enabling the satchel carry to be converted into a rucksack style carry.
The Thin One
Cover a larger area, and cover gaps between pads. This pad has 25mm closed cell foam to add extra protection alongside other pads. It had rucksack straps and rolls around the Fat One. so you can carry them both together. Thinner, but bigger than the standard boulder pad.
The Sit Start
Slim boulder pad suitable for sit starts, filling gaps between pads and for low traverse problems. Cushions your coccyx from low falls.
Five things you need to know before a winter bouldering trip to Albarracín
Let’s be clear. Bouldering is free. It’s more of a guide for getting to/from/general survival.
The plan was Font in early November, book at the last minute after seeing what the weather was doing. It was a good plan as it turned out the weather looked horrendous, cold and rain. So a plan B was needed, long story short we headed to Albarracín (with a reputation of being one of Europe’s best bouldering venues with “bomb proof” weather) We had a great time, so much so that we went again in early January, right in the middle of storm…with knee deep snow. So here we’ve put a crib sheet about getting the most out of winter bouldering in Spain.
1 Getting there. Flights and car hire
From the UK you can fly reasonably cheaply if you shop around to Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante and Madrid. The nearest airports are Valencia and Madrid. We used Barcelona and Alicante because the flights were cheaper and earlier in the morning so we could there, if we got a wriggle on with enough time to boulder for a few hours on the first day. This is a good thing to do if you are short on days and don’t mind being knackered.
You can choose to offset your carbon footprint created by flying by giving something back. To find out how much impact your flight has, ClimateCare have a carbon calculator.
Hiring a car is really the only viable option, made cheaper if you have a car full of people of course. Using public transport is difficult, as would getting to the crag when you are there. Be really careful checking the condition of your car when you pick it up, and don’t take it back very dirty inside (easy to do on a climbing trip) or you may end up with a nasty bill. Be sure to understand what you are insured for. If you take your own mats you need to hire a car big enough. First trip we hired a VW Caddy, we didn’t take our own mats but hired 3 mats from the climbing shop in Albarracin. We comfortably got three of us and the mats in the car. Second trip we hired a bigger car a Vauxhall Zafira, with five of us and four mats. A tight squeeze.
It was like tetras trying to fit everything in.
2 What to take. Mats and stuff
To keep costs down for the first trip we took a sack each which fitted the size requirements for cab luggage (56x45x25cms) a decent size, this way we avoided the high costs of hold luggage, and skipped through the airport not having to collect baggage. Packing was quite tight.
All you need:
A good pair of approach shoes/boots which we travelled in
2 pairs of climbing shoes,
Warm crag layers, hat gloves etc
Flask, tea is important.
Change of clothes and toiletries etc. don’t forget you haven’t got any hold luggage so you are restricted on what liquids you can take, e.g liquid chalk or sharps (scissors)
With Easy Jet the hold luggage is measured by adding up the height, length and width of your bag, maximum total is 275cm, this is plenty big enough for most large mats. This meant we could put two mats together and count them as one. Jen constructed some large covers out of tent materials to hold them, and straps, together. This meant we could stuff boots and chalk etc inside the mat. We had no issues getting the mats through check in, as they are relatively light.
I think its slightly more expensive to take your own mats than to hire (hiring in November was 7 euros per day, but you had to pre book and collect when the shop is open. Taking your own is a bit of hassle but is probably worth it as you remove the risk of not getting hire mats.
3 Accommodation and provisions
There are less choices for accommodation in the winter, camping is less practical because it is very cold on a night, there is a carpark for campervans. Albaraccin is around 1300m high. There are plenty of Airbnbs hotels, a couple of climbing hostels, we paid about 20 euros per person per night for a really good airbnb.
There are two supermarkets very near each other in the town, we had no trouble getting what we wanted to feed ourselves, we didn’t go to the next big town Terual as it was 40 mins away, and there was no need. We cooked in for 50% of the time and also ate in the local restaurants/ bars. The food was good and alright value, the best we found was Bar la Despensa, a cosy tapas bar, with very friendly staff and good prices. The restaurants don’t open until 8pm which doesn’t suit everybody, but if you are climbing all day it suits us.
4. The Crags
The boulder areas are a 10 minute drive up the hill from the town, we took flasks of hot drinks, sandwiches, fruit and boiled eggs up to the crag. We generally got to the crag between 09.00 and 10.00 which seemed early enough especially if it was cold. You can easily spend all day at the crag with no need to drop back down to town for lunch. There are 3 main car parks, the first being on a bend, the second has some small out building in it and third has parking on both sides of the road. The third is the best places to start at, you can see boulders from the road and Sector Parking is right in front of the parking. This sector is great for warming up at it has some easier problems on fantastic looking walls.
We used a 2019 guidebook which we bought through Needle sports in Keswick. Its in English and is very good. Ticks with intials helped us keep track of everyone’s progress. We also used the 27crags app, which proved very useful later on. Go for the problems with stars or half stars, they are all excellent. We tended to climb in 1 area in the morning and another in the afternoon. You soon get a feel for the aspect of the crags, we were able to find crags in the shelter from the wind and ones in the sun.
On both trips it was very cold (between 0 and 10 degrees) but we were able to keep warm and dodge the wind.
The climbing is really good, a mix of edges, pockets and slopers.
There are hundreds of Youtube vidoes which give you a much better idea than I can. You can also walk up the canyon by parking near the sports centre (in the end we wound up using this trail to lug the mats to go climbing). This is a good thing to do perhaps on a rest day.
5 Plan B and C
On our second trip we had about 30 cms of snow on our third day. The whole area was very beautiful, but the conditions made salvaging any climbing virtually impossible as it snowed throughout the day and the snow was very wet snow. There are lots of overhangs (Techos area especially) where it may be possible to climb in rain or light snow. For us the snow was blowing in under the overhangs and the ground and our kit was sodden. But dammit, we tried.
So decisions had to be made.
There is plenty of walking or running in the surrounding area, but you are in Spain and its just that you are high up in the mountains in poor weather. We bailed and dropped down towards the sea to find better weather. This is where your choice of airport comes in. We were Alicante so we did the 4 hour drive first thing in the morning, we went straight to a bouldering area we had checked out the night before called Crevillante near Elche, had an afternoon and following days bouldering and stopped in a cheap air bnb.
If you fly from Barcelona or Valencia there is a boulder areas called Alcaniz which is gaining a good reputation. There is also an area near Madrid. The point is you have choices if Albarracin is rainy or snowing. Just call it early and bail. We used Instagram to find very recent photos of folk bouldering on the crags we were heading for, this was excellent for sussing what condition the crags were in.
Albaraccin is a great place to visit, I haven’t even talked about how magical the town itself is or much about the bouldering really. If you are organised, a trip in winter is really worth doing, we were a bit unlucky in our January trip as it was right in the middle of the big storms. But we had a fantastic time and the snow just added to the adventure.
Zoe Allin gets to grips with sharp Hampi granite, bouldering in the Indian sun and life as a travelling climber.
Arrival at Hampi
If you have even heard of Hampi, I imagine it will be for its historical, archaeological and religious significance. But leave the temples behind for now and cross the river to Hampi Island, where you will be immediately welcomed to Main Street – a single line of cafés/guesthouses adorned with advertisements for yoga classes and sound healing sessions, colourful stalls of happy pants and two German bakeries.
Oh, and also one of the biggest boulder fields in the world. No surprise then, that Hampi is described as a ‘Mecca’ for the travelling climber.
Complete with hammocks, slackline, monkey bars and a campus board, The Goan Corner is the climber’s hub of Hampi Island where Dirtbaggers can pay 200 Indian Rupees (about £2) a night for a mattress and mosquito net on the roof.
I was lucky in that my bed does not catch much sun. I was *unlucky* in that the monkeys that use the roof as a playground stole my banana from my bag and left dirty fingerprints in my peanut butter.
Golden Boulders Festival
Within an hour of arriving, I was invited to join a crew for the next morning. Climbers meet around 6.15am for breakfast and a 7am ETD, marching out in various directions with our rented pads (120rupees/day from the Goan Corner) and then climbing until the problems fall foul to the Indian sun, usually around midday.
The afternoon session begins around half 4 and continues into the night, providing the crew has enough headtorches or a mini floodlight. Power screams, ‘Allez!’, ‘¡Venga!’, and ‘STRONG, TRUST THE FOOT’, followed by howls of success regularly echo across the Plateau.
Two main points should be emphasised.
1) Hampi granite is damn sharp. I caught a crimp slightly off target and sliced my finger open on a protruding crystal… on multiple occasions. We all grimace in solitude on hearing the cheese-grating noise of skin against rock as the grip gives or a hold is missed and fingerprints are erased in one fine swoop.
2) Hampi grading is… unreliable. On the most part, the climbs are harder than they are graded; the most recent topo has downgraded a lot of the problems. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone and, whether I’m climbing hard or not, I revel in the energy created at the crag.
The Golden Boulders Climbing Festival and Competition was in full swing over my first week. Although I prefer to climb non-competitively, the vibes surrounding the competition were only those of good spirit and encouragement; I wear the blue vest with pride! More importantly, I am incredibly grateful to now consider the people I met through the festival as good friends.
Time to reflect
Because of the aforementioned skin-loss and injuries resulting from overactivity, rest days are crucial. I practise doing nothing at the oasis by Space Baba Café, have sat (not stood) on a slackline spanning the river and appreciated the intrinsic beauty of the Island from the back of a Royal Enfield. Trust me, you won’t get bored.
The main bouldering season is limited to mainly Dec/Jan/Feb due to the heat but I am assured the psyche continues as night sessions into March.
Remember when I was going to spend just 2 weeks here? Me neither… I’ve also made the somewhat rash decision to move out of my flat (many thanks to my boys for moving my stuff – love you both) and to stay out here seeking out more of the climbing spots around South/Southeast Asia in Dirtbag fashion.
Seriously, hit me up with recommendations. Where next!?
Useful information: The Goan Corner (Guesthouse): Meet your new crew, eat well, rent your pad, don’t get in trouble with Sharmilla (the owner). Golden Boulders Climbing Shop: Take private lessons, rent shoes and buy chalk, be charmed by the ever-smiling Jerry who also organised the Golden Boulders Festival (big thanks, my friend). Nature Yoga: run by my talented companion, Jessie. Join for Hatha Yoga sessions away from the guesthouses – donation based.
A group of local friends and climbers joined us for a quiet afternoon celebrating the beginning of Spring hugging some rocks and testing out some chalk bags. We drove out to the coast, to St Bees; a gorgeous bouldering location.
Loaded with pads, shoes, lunch and a bag of new stock we carefully made our way down the cliff side to boulder the afternoon away. Due to the bird ban, and high tide, our visit was restricted to the Apiary wall area – which had lots of problems with a good range of difficulty.
We were excited to show off some of the new lightweight panel bags made entirely from offcuts, and the classic horizontal panel recycled rope chalk bags. We also brought along some bracelets and belts for the guys to have a look and test.
James and I were joined by Anna, Karly, Tess, Jonathan, Reece, Nick and Lauren. With a good range of climbing abilities it was a chilled day, not about performance or showing off – just everyone confident enough to have a go and to enjoy the day.
The day was made possible really by the power of social media , reaching out to those who might be interested in spending the day messing about on some rocks with us proved to be popular, and brought this little group together.
With aching fingers and bellies lit with an enthusiasm for this year’s climbing – we all left with big plans for summer.
And us particularly, to make days like this, with new friends all with the love of climbing in common – more regular.
Huge thanks to those who came, particularly Jonathan and Reece who worked hard taking photos while we all played.