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Bouldering and Roped climbing explained

There are 4 kinds of climbing you can do indoors. They are:

  • no ropes or harnesses
  • you climb shorter walls above thick mats
  • you can do it by yourself
  • we can teach you the basics in a few minutes, after which you can boulder without supervision

Auto belays
  • you climb by yourself
  • you wear a harness
  • the auto belay device is secured to the top of the wall, with a webbing tape coming down with a karabiner on the end
  • you clip the karabiner onto your harness
  • as you climb, the tape retracts automatically into the auto belay device
  • when you want to descend, or if you fall, the auto belay will lower you safely to the floor
  • members of The Reach can be given a short safety induction, after which you can use the auto belays without supervision

  • you climb in pairs - one climbing, one on the ground 'belaying'
  • you wear harnesses
  • a rope runs between the climber and the belayer, passing through a loop at the top of the wall
  • as the climber climbs, the belayer takes in the slack in the rope
  • when the climber has finished, the belayer lets out the rope in a controlled way so that the climber is safely lowered to the ground
  • our 6-hour course teaches you how to use the equipment and belay correctly, providing an ideal foundation for unsupervised climbing and registering for membership at The Reach

  • for more experienced climbers
  • like top-roping, you climb in pairs - one climbing, one 'belaying'
  • unlike top-roping, the lead climber takes the rope up with them, clipping it through metal gates at intervals as they go
  • the techniques of both climbing and belaying are more technical than in top-roping
  • our intense lead course can teach you the additional skills you need for indoor lead climbing, but it assumes you have at least 3 months of unsupervised top-roping experience


Auto belay device
A piece of equipment that eliminates the need for a human belayer. The auto belay takes up the slack as a climber ascends and safely controls the descent when the climber lets go or falls.
Belay/ Belaying

Originally a nautical term, 'belay' means to secure a rope.

When a climber falls, the belayer's task is to lock-off the rope the climber is tied to, arresting their fall. The belayer then controls the descent of the climber back to the ground. In practice, the belayer must carefully manage the rope at all times to ensure it does not become tangled, is neither too slack nor too tight, and is ready at any time to be secured.

The belayer uses equipment - a belay device and karabiner - to control when the rope is secured and when it is able to run through.


Is named after the practice of climbing on large boulders, typically fairly close to the ground (up to 5m), using crash mats instead of belay ropes for protection.


An approximate measure of the technical difficulty of a climb. The lower the grade, the eaiser the climb.

At The Reach we use French numerical grades for roped climbs (e.g. in ascending order of difficulty: 3, 4, 4+, 5, 5+, 6a, 6a+, 6b, etc.); and we use the V scale (or Hueco scale) for bouldering problems (e.g. in ascending order of difficulty: VB, V0-, V0, V0+, V1, etc.).

All routes at The Reach are marked with a grade tag. A climber will have a rough idea of the range of grades they are comfortable climbing at, so can easily find routes around the facility which are suitable for their level of ability.

Lead climbing

A type of roped climbing, described above.

Lower off

To come down from a route after reaching the top or not being able to climb anymore.


A section of climbing wall steeper than vertical, overhanging the climber.

Routes/ Route setting

The majority of indoor climbing makes use of coloured, bolted-on climbing 'holds'. These are arranged in routes (called 'problems' in bouldering) using holds of a single colour going up a wall. On any given section of wall there will be a number of routes. Climbers can use holds of all colours to ascend (called 'rainbowing'), or they can restrict themselves to a single colour route. Routes (and problems) are graded according to their difficulty (see 'Grade' above).

In order to keep presenting fresh climbing challenges, holds on any given wall are periodically unbolted and reapplied in different configurations. This is done by professional route setters who lay out routes to mimic a variety of rock climbing moves.


The opposite of an overhang. A section of climbing wall sloping away from the climber (shallower than vertical).

Top-rope climbing

A type of roped climbing, described above.

The Reach opening times:
10am - 10pm Mon-Fri
10am - 7pm Sat-Sun
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020 8855 9598

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