Solo Climber – Mike Dunne
I got into climbing when I was about 16, me and a mate were really bored during the summer holidays so he showed me the local climbing wall in Cockermouth, I didn’t even really know what climbing was but I instantly loved it. I started climbing at the wall a few times a week just in trainers, on my own and I slowly got better. After about 4 months I bought a pair of cheap climbing shoes and started trying to really improve my climbing.
After a year another mate, Josh, took me outside to show me how to Trad climb. I didn’t have the attention span for learning as it turned out and started soloing straight away. For the next 2 years I soloed regularly in the mountain crags of the Lake District, such as Gable crag, High crag at Buttermere and Pillar Rock. I stopped soloing last year, the risks started outweighing the benefits and I stopped enjoying it as much, and started leading.
My third lead was The Devil’s Alternative at Shepherds Crag which I did headpoint, after the years of only ever soloing onsight. It was a big achievement at the time but ground-up would’ve been better. I’m still attempting Geronimo, the route next to Devil’s, ground-up, but I only give it a shot every few months because the gears pants and the moves are bad for my tendons. When I climbed The Devils Alternative I did it on one size 1 nut and two skyhooks. It was pretty sketchy but after a whipper on the first skyhook I got the confidence to go for it and got it clean. That skyhook is my lucky charm now and I‘ve used it loads since.
Loving and Hating Climbing
I got into bouldering when I was at university, there was no decent Trad really close by and I didn’t, and still don’t, really fit in with the other climbers. I was still in my soloing phase so I started going to Cowraik quarry near Penrith in Cumbria and bouldering all the routes with this old crappy sofa bed cushion for a mat. I personally have never got that much into bouldering as an individual sport, but I do have a soft spot for making new bouldering problems.
I know people who are totally obsessed with climbing but for me it’s just something I do. Sometimes I love it, sometimes (less frequently these days) I hate it but it’s always there. I’m driven by something I don’t understand, deep in my heart, forget the grades and the bravado and the glory, I just need to know myself, I can only do that when I’m about half an inch away from doom. That said I’m starting to soften in my old age and crags often ring with the sounds of ‘Shit John, I don’t want to die!’ when I’m leading.
Lake District Climbs
I climb pretty much entirely in the Lake District, though I messed about on grit once, Lake district rock just fits my style, I love it. Being on the mountain crags, when the weather is dark, and silence is all around, the distinction between you and what is around you blurs, you become something else almost. My Dad used to tell me when I was younger that the Mountains were his Church, I didn’t really understand back then but now I do. Being out amongst the Fells heals the soul.
I think my favourite climbing route would have to be a link-up of two routes that my mate John Rushton and I did back in 2009 on High Crag. We linked Lost Colonies and The Philistine using a pretty tricky traverse, all solo onsight, that’s what that picture of us on High Crag is. That day everything was perfect, I like the weather threatening myself, sun is so sterile. The rock up there is beautiful as well, it really inspires good climbing. Our link-up is The Lost Aegean E2 5c, whether it will be accepted by the climbing community I don’t know, nor really care. The fun is in making the route, everything else is just details.
Training, Groups and Sport Climbing
I do bugger all training, occasionally I do some pull-ups or lift a weight but never with the intention of getting better at climbing, I just get bored. If it wasn’t for climbing I’d be very unfit.
I’m not a member of any climbing groups, I don’t do competitions and I never plan on changing that. I climb for myself, competitions make my skin crawl. I don’t like climbing magazines or forums or any of that stuff, it just gets in the way. Too much attention is on the E9’s and F9b’s, impressive yes, but a nice long VS is better for the spirit.
My only ambition in climbing really is to have a good time, and not fall back into the trap of climbing hard, and risking your life, solely to impress people. Climbing’s become a much more personal experience for me in the past year, I’m trying to keep all the gubbins around me blocked out. The best climber really is the one having the most fun, people laugh when I say that but I stand by it. You could be announced champion of the world in climbing but it will only last a matter of years, you’ll live and die just like everyone else, and you’ll have probably sacrificed a load of good times for training and competitions.
First Ascents interest me more than anything, Trad and boulder. I’ve made a few routes over the years here and there, a few up at Black Crag in Langdale such as In Absentia E1 5b, and a few high bouldering problems up Honister. God knows how accurate my grading is but it doesn’t really bother me, like I said before all the fun is in making the route, if no one repeats it I’m not fussed. Got a few projects on the go, tricky new routes, sod’s law they’re all gearless mind.
I don’t sport climb, many people have tried to persuade me to, some to the point of being rude, but I just don’t. Simple as that.
Best Climbing Gear
I use a Wild Country ziplock harness, mad rock flash boots and that’s it really. I don’t know the make of most of my gear, it’s fished out of mountain crags and skips and stuff and I’ve only bought about 4% of it, the rest I scavenged*. Got some micros and some quickdraws for my birthday so I’ve pretty much got a full rack now which is grand.
I think climbers get to caught up in gear, I know people who have climbed outdoors less than a handful of times and have a rack 3 times the size of mine, it’s a bit annoying. If you’re a good climber then you can make anything work, that seems to be a lost concept. Brands have become a status symbol in climbing like in everything else. Expensive guff is what most of it is. I like the mad rock flash shoes because they’re really comfy and I wear it in the size I actually am. I’m not into the whole ‘I own three different pairs of super-tight pointy shoes for different climbing’ thing, can’t afford it for starters.
I love brass offsets, just recently got a second one, I use them when I really shouldn’t but they’re just lovely.
I’m out climbing most days now with my mate John, when I’m not I paint, a hobby I took up a few months ago. I’m mostly just sailing along through life pretty relaxed, waiting for my time to strike.
Final Thoughts on Climbing
I really respect Johnny Dawes, his approach to climbing is just beautiful.
I do a fair bit of winter stuff when the conditions are right, bit of a crap season last winter.
I’d like to say thanks to my mate John Timney, he’s been there at pretty much every big climb I’ve done and he never doubted me. He’s a hell of a climber whether he accepts it or not, and it’s maybe the fact that he doesn’t accept it that makes him even better.
My last on word on climbing: enjoy it while it’s still enjoyable, all that we know is coming to an end.
Many thanks to Mike Dunne for sharing his experiences and thoughts on climbing in the Lake District and sport climbing!
If you enjoyed reading about Mike Dunne’s climbing experience, or would like some inspiration, why not read our article about professional speed climber Ueli Steck, or our interviews with urbex climber Stepping Lightly, the UK’s number one climber Kevin Thaw or The North Face sponsored climber Daniel Woods.
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Footnote – Climbing Gear Safety
* Please note that we do not recommend scavenging climbing gear. Since there is no way of knowing whether it has any internal damage, there can be no guarantee that it is fit for purpose. Therefore you could be putting yourself and others at risk of injury or death. To find out more about suitable equipment, please read our climbing gear advice page.