Our First Time Climbing Outdoors – Dartmoor National Park

Our First Time Climbing Outdoors – Dartmoor National Park

“Indoor climbing is great, but outdoor climbing is where it’s really at”

– Random climber

Ed and I had been bouldering fairly regularly, 3/4 times a week, for four months when the itch to climb outdoors started to present itself. The climbing gym had been a great place to build our confidence on a variety of holds and with the security of soft matting beneath us, but the lure of the great outdoors was calling and it felt right that we put what we had learnt to the test on real rock.

Craving a getaway and some time in the wild we made the perhaps slightly crazy decision to make our first climbing trip to the harsh granite of Dartmoor, a lengthy five hour drive from the shores of Brighton. Dartmoor is renown for its granite tors and is home to plenty of boulder problems across an assortment of difficulties. With the added benefit of legal wild camping helping to keep our costs down Dartmoor seemed the perfect place to escape to for a long weekend.

Having decided on Dartmoor our next challenge was deciding where within Dartmoor and with so many tors to choose from it felt quite overwhelming. As the queen of research I began online searching for places that would meet our criteria:

  • A good number of problems (we didn’t want to have to move camp, but a walk to another nearby tor would be fine)
  • A variety of lower grade problems f3-f5
  • Quiet and away from the road (we wanted this to be an escape)

After a fair few hours learning about the topography and geography of Dartmoor we settled on Smallacombe Rocks.

The Summit Sector – Smallacombe Rocks, Dartmoor

Smallacombe hosts over 100 boulder problems with many graded between f4 and f6b, despite its proximity to the tourist hotspot Haytor it remains quiet and often undisturbed. With two car parks a 15 minute walk away it was accessible yet remote and also had the added benefit of being easy walking distance to Blackhill Boulders, Greator Rocks and Hound Tor.

If you’re arriving with a tent be prepared for a 15 minute trek uphill if you want to set up camp near the boulders, but the extra effort is definitely worth it for some spectacular views.

So what was the climbing like?

In a word – unbelievable

That feeling of climbing your first real boulder is second to none and is also completely addictive.

If you’ve never climbed outdoors before then be prepared for a very different experience, albeit a completely thrilling one. Whatever grade you’re climbing indoors we’d recommend dropping a grade or two when you first start outdoors.

The lack of clearly marked holds, the added treachery of only having a boulder mat for protection and the harshness of the rock on your skin all comes together to amplify the adrenaline rush ten-fold.

Hound Tor – Some climbs can get pretty high!

The first thing to get used to when climbing outdoors is the lack of clearly marked climbs, a swathe of grey boulders that all look the same can be very hard to navigate – and so taking a guide book is highly recommended. We used Dartmoor – A Climbers’ Club Guide by James Clapham and would have been completely lost without it. Covering the whole of Dartmoor this guidebook has clear maps of the rocks, numbers the climbs and explains their difficulty, we also liked the addition of the tick boxes to help us record what we’d topped.

The next thing to get used to is the harshness of Dartmoor’s granite, and it should not be under-estimated, so bring plenty of tape and plasters to protect your hands (and to patch up any knee and elbow scrapes) But rough granite also has its benefits, for the first time Ed and I felt we really understood what climbing shoes were meant for, they stuck to the granite like glue, making anywhere on the rock a viable foothold.

Smallacombe Rocks – Granite

Finally, the last thing we hadn’t really thought about was how to get down. It’s easy in the boulder gym to move across to the nearest juggy climb, or (worst case scenario) to jump knowing you have the safety of the mats below but when climbing outdoors getting down can often feel like the hard part. There are no nice juggy climbs and jumping off onto your mat is often not an option – when scoping out a climb try to also take a minute to think about how you’ll get down and this will save you the panic I felt atop my first boulder 🙈


So if you’re on the fence or reading this post for a little motivation and reassurance then do it! We would 100% recommend getting outdoors – no matter what your ability, it will improve your indoor climbing tenfold and give you a taste of what everyone has been barking on about. No matter your ability there will be something you can climb, even if its not listed in the book just climb anything and everything (so long as it’s safe to do so of course).

To find out what we took with us for our climbing/camping trip click here.

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