Height of passage

Jerry Moffatt by the main wall
Jerry Moffatt by the main wall
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ADRENALINE is pumping through your diarist’s body; muscles burning, mind numbing, fingers feeling like they’re being ripped from the sockets...

Welcome, reader. You join me on the rock face, attempting to scale a merciless overhang; an adventurer pitting myself his wits gravity. But – good Lord – it ain’t as easy as they make it look on TV.

“Move your right hand,” calls up Jerry Moffatt, the one-time greatest climber in the world. “No, that’s your left hand. The other one. You can do it.”

But... I can’t. And with a shriek like a startled pony, I feel the earth rushing up towards me...

Until, three feet later, when I land on a crash mat.

“So close,” says Jerry. “That was... great.”

His expression suggests it wasn’t. Still, never mind. For, I have just become one of the estimated nearly 1 million who has tested their mettle at Sheffield’s Foundry Climbing Centre, in Kelham Island.

This month the Mowbray Street venue – set up and owned by Jerry – has been celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“Well, sort of,” says Jerry. “The actual anniversary was in December but no-one realised. Climbers are pretty laid-back, you know?”

Clearly. Because this is one Sheffield institution which should be shouting from the roof tops (or should that be cliff tops?) about its success.

See, while in 2012 such facilities might be as common as overhangs in the Peak District, back in the early 1990s there was nothing like The Foundry anywhere in the country.

“We use to train by building plasterboard overhangs in our cellars,” says Jerry, of Peel Terrace, Broomfield. “During the winter when you couldn’t get onto the Peaks, you could physically feel yourself losing ground. When we opened this, climbers were progressing in a season what had previously taken three years.”

The idea came to the 48-year-old while visiting Belgium as a pro in search of sponsorship.

“I saw this wall while I was there,” says the father-of-two who originally moved here from his native Leicestershire because of its nearness to the Peaks. “And straight away I thought we need one of those in Sheffield. It was already a climbing capital so it made sense.”

He spoke to various potential funders about making it a reality and was looking for a suitable venue when, by chance, a chap called Paul Reeve approached him.

“He told me about this old carpet warehouse he wanted to turn into a climbing centre and asked me to get involved,” says Jerry. “It was coincidence but it was perfect timing.”

It turned out to be a perfect partnership too with the pair transforming that unit into the finest facility anywhere in the world.

And with Jerry and Paul, 49, of Cavendish Road, staying at the helm ever since, they have slowly expanded from that first original single wall into two halls offering five faces, a bouldering range, training board and traversing corridor.

“At first some people were sceptical,” says Jerry, who released his autobiography in 2008. “They didn’t think climbing should be done indoors and the first few weeks were a bit quiet but I never had any doubts it would work. People move to Sheffield to climb and this was ensuring they could do that even when the weather was bad.”

That in 2012 The Foundry is still attracting as many as 200 people a day – from the seven-year-olds of the Spider Club to the over 65s taking advantage of the OAP deal – is proof he was right. Steve McClure, the UK’s best current climber, trains here while the venue’s fame has spread well beyond South Yorkshire.

“I was climbing in France once and I mentioned I came from Sheffield,” says Jerry. “They asked if I’d heard of The Foundry. That made me smile.”

And with that, dear reader, I’m back on that boulder, trying to scale new heights.