Outside is undoubtedly one of the best outdoor retailers in the country. It’s a store that stocks quality kit, has a huge range of products and employs experienced and knowledgable staff that you can guarantee are just as passionate about the outdoors as you are. Just before Christmas they started stocking our new packs, but unfortunately they were only open for a month, before they had to close again due to lockdown 3.0. However now things are looking more optimistic, I feel it’s a good time for me to reminisce on what a great place this independent shop actually is…..
My first encounters with Outside were as a teenager. I’d cut my teeth climbing on volcanic rock in the Lake District and for some reason I found getting my arse kicked on the gritstone edges a highly addictive and humbling adventure. My limited experience had taught me that October was the time to cut your losses with the damp, seapy crags of the Lake District and venture down to the Grit. I was too young to drive and didn’t have much money, but where there’s a will there’s a way! The earliest memories I have of Outside are of me thawing out in the morning. I'd walk around pretending to look at gear, but in reality I was unable to concentrate on anything other than the numb feeling in my body after a night out bivvying in the cold. That’s not to say I didn’t ever buy anything. I had a rather "limited" trad rack at the time. It mostly consisted of secondhand wires and a few slings - which could be quite restrictive when it came to climbing gritstone VS's! Most visits across the Pennines reluctantly resulted in a new addition to my rack, purchased from Outside. I'd start off with hexes as a cost effective solution to protecting hand cracks, before eventually investing in a couple of cams. I was hopelessly optimistic and stubborn as a climber, and I found Stanage quite a public place to climb compared to the remote mountain crags I was used to. Because of this, I always climbed two or three grades harder than I was actually capable of. For some reason, I thought it less embarrassing to fail on a harder route than succeed on an easier one. The end result being, that I had practically no “clean” ascents of anything on gritstone. From the Left and Right Unconquerables to Flying Buttress Direct and Goliaths Grooves, you name it I’ve fallen off it, but I did get up them…eventually!
I remember one occasion my climbing partner was attempting his first Hard Severe Lead. I think it was April Crack he’d chosen for this. One move, place gear, one move, place gear, one mo…. actually no, place more gear first, one move…. anyway, you get the picture! About forty minutes into this, a white haired man, who had been sitting at the bottom of the crag with a flask, started shouting up advice in what at that point in my life (remember I was brought up in Cumbria) seemed like the poshest accent I’d ever heard. He had trekking poles sticking out of his backpack, and was dressed like a member of the Ramblers. However his advice seemed to work, and before long my climbing partner was at the top of the crag. I then started to put my rock shoes on and warm up my hands after an hour of attentive belaying in low temperatures. Before I’d so much as even tied my first shoelace this man was half way up the route. He stopped and looked down at me.
“It won’t piss him off if I solo it will it?” he politely asked
"Erm, no I wouldn't have thought so."
"Just thought I'd check."
He then continued to cruise up it in what seemed like about ninety seconds. About ten minutes later, after tying in and stripping the route of what seemed like an entire racks worth of gear, I topped out to see the same gentleman merrily chatting away to some people he’d recognised walking along the top. It literally seemed like he’d just gone for a quick evening stroll whilst his wife was cooking supper and merely saw April Crack as an easier alternative of getting to the top, then walking up around the back. Right then and there, I looked at this guy as the coolest cat on the planet. I went over to him and picked his brains, some what in awe. I told him about the concerns I had, my failures as a climber and just how hard I was finding grit. And to my surprise he seemed to be only too happy to listen and offer advice and encouragement. I learned that I was going the wrong way about it. I needed to build up the milage in each grade before moving on to the next one and then I could, as he put it, “hit them running”.
A few months later I was reading Andy Kirkpatrick’s autobiography “Psychovertical” (which I still regard as the best piece of mountaineering literature I’ve ever read) I noticed a familiar face pop up in it. It was Dick Turnbull, the owner of Outside and somewhat of a mentor in the early days of Andy’s climbing career. The very same guy I’d met at the crag that day. It all suddenly made sense! I look at my experience with Dick Turnbull as the epitome of what Outside is all about. Here was a man that for all the gnarly ascents he had under his belt, for all the experience he’d amassed, and for all the great climbers he knew, was still hugely enthusiastic about passing on his love for the crags to a scruffy, naive, and excited teenager, venturing out on his first few trad climbs at Stanage. I've come to learn that this same magnificent quality is in the heart of the shop he co-founded, Outside.