CONNOR Dickinson only started climbing in 2011 and was partly self-taught with early progress in the sport including learning from YouTube videos!
He has since become a professional route setter and is a trusted coach and mentor to many climbing enthusiasts.
In this exclusive interview Connor talks about his biggest successes in climbing to date as well as his passion for working with and encouraging young people into the sport.
Read on to find out about his experiences climbing around the world and how the sport will take him next to China where he will work as a guide.
Where did you grow up and who encouraged you to start climbing? Where did you first learn to climb?
I grew up on the Wirral, a small peninsular between Liverpool and North Wales. I started climbing back in 2011 at my local climbing wall in Liverpool, while my friend was visiting home from university. We decided to do something different and chose to try out climbing, I was hooked straight away and bought a pair of shoes and a harness that evening!
After a couple of months of top roping indoors, I taught myself how to lead climb after watching a few YouTube videos (it’s probably better to seek out professional instruction) and began to venture outside. Armed with a second hand rope and quickdraws that I was given, I spent a lot of time climbing around North Wales at crags such as Llandullas Cave, Castle Inn Quarry and the slate quarries.
What were any early successes you had in the sport?
One of my earliest successes in climbing was when I visited Malham Cove for the first time. I remember watching a video of Steve McClure climbing Rain Shadow and thinking how incredible it must be to climb there, so when my friend asked if I wanted to go I jumped at the opportunity. At the time I had been climbing for around about a year, regularly doing routes around 6b+. Anyone that has climbed at Malham will know there’s not much to go at around that grade, so I was ushered over to a route called Consenting Adults at the lofty grade of 7a. It looked completely blank, but luckily Joe Cook was working on Bat Route next to me and pointed out the holds as I was climbing.
For the entire day, I sieged the route on top rope, watching in awe as the stronger climbers ran laps on it as a warm up. eventually, I began to piece it together, managing to do it clean two or three times and just as we where about to pack up, I pulled the rope, tied in and went for the lead. There was a few hairy moments, but with the encouragement from most of the cat walk I was able to fight my way to the top of my first 7a.
How did you get into route setting and what inspired you to become a coach?
I got into route setting while I was working at Awesome Walls in Liverpool, after being asked to reset one of their bouldering walls. I had always enjoyed making up my own problems while there where holds all ready on the wall, trying to come up with crazy moves with my friends. It was a great feeling being stood in front of a blank wall and given the freedom to create moves, limited only to my imagination. Anyone that says route setting isn’t hard work is a liar but it’s cool seeing people having fun on your routes or problems.
I also got into coaching around the same time. There where a few really talented kids that attended the kids club, however with a with a seven children to one instructor ratio, the focus was more on safety than coaching. I began to coach some of them individually in my spare time, focusing more on technique, tactics and training. There was one particular lad who really wanted to go climbing outside so I offered to start taking him out sport climbing. Within a year he had climbed 7c, it was really reward to watch him grow as a climber, in fact I think I was more nervous than him on his final redpoint!
What message do you try to instil in those who come to you for climbing guidance?
I remember an Alex Lowe quote I was told when I first started, “The best climber is the one having the most fun” and it’s so true. Follow your motivation whether that’s to go out and climb big mountain routes, train to do a 1-5-9 on a campus board, or to work on your latest project. Just think, if you’re not having fun you will be unwilling to put in the extra time needed to be the best climber you can be.
What have been your own biggest achievements in climbing to date?
One moment that sticks out in my mind was when I managed to climb Sea Of Tranquility at Moon Hill during my last visit to China. The route is a long 40m 8b+ pitch that climbs up through the entire arch and up onto the steep head wall, definitely the king line of the crag. My friend TJ, who was also trying the route, encouraged me to give it a go after I had climbed most of the other routes up there but I had just under two weeks of my trip left. I didn’t think I’d have enough time to redpoint the route yet it looked incredible and I couldn’t help going up and playing around. I began to make good progress on it, falling from the last move of the crux twice in a session, with four days still to go. I fell at the same point again the next day so I decided to take a rest day to give me the best possible chance of doing the route. With only another session left after this one, I walked up the 900 steps confident I could do the route but nervous I hadn’t enough time remaining and that day I fell at exactly the same point a further two more times. Normally I would only have two good attempts in a session, however I felt ok after my rest day and opted to tie in for a third. I climbed nervously, but managed to fight my way through the crux and found myself clipping the chains with one day to spare. It’s safe to say there was a decent amount of cheap Chinese beer drank that night!
Where are you currently based and where else in the world has the sport taken you?
Climbing has a way of taking you off the beaten track, to places most people would over look and seeing them from a unique perspective. Only a climber would be able to say they looked out across the Yosemite valley from their portaledge on El Cap, or sat on a hanging bamboo bench in the roof of the worlds largest natural arch. I’ve been lucky enough to climb all over the world, visiting places such as China, Thailand, Laos, Philippines, USA and all over Europe. I definitely think that my climbing wouldn’t be what it is today, without travelling.
For the past four months I’ve been back at home in the UK , recovering from a knee injury I sustained while climbing at the New River Gorge in the US back in November. It’s been great catching up with everyone here though and now that my knee is feeling better, I’ve been able to do a good amount of climbing. The weather has been pretty terrible this winter so I’ve climbed indoors a lot, focusing my energy on mostly bouldering, recently winning a couple of local competitions.
What climbing challenges and projects do you have planned for the year ahead and beyond?
As I’m writing this I’m surrounded by piles of clothes and climbing gear that I’m sorting through, ready to start packing for my next trip.
I am returning to China to do some guiding work during the summer as well as getting plenty of climbing in. Hopefully I will be able to finish off some projects I never quite managed to before I left.
Also on my previous visit I checked out an area called Li Ming, known as the Indian Creek of Asia. There’s hundreds of walls covered in perfect splitter cracks, only a fraction of which have been fully developed. As it turned out I was awful and jamming, so this trip I’m going to go there with aim to learn how to crack climb…it could take a while!
After China I will go to Australia. My friend Glenn who lives there, keeps sending me pictures and videos of the climbing around the Blue Mountains. It looks incredible so I’ve decided to go and find out what it’s all about, however no trip down under would be complete without visiting the Grampians and Arapiles. I’m also a really keen surfer so it will be silly not to go surfing while I’m there!
My biggest aim is to keep enjoying climbing and the adventures it takes me on for as long as possible.