Athena Mellor is a fresh-air-head

Factories of chalk and training

words and images by luke douglas (co founder)


We’re all for being outside, hence Outdoor Provisions, but in the depths of winter, a bit of indoor action is sometimes necessary; let's take this inside.

One such refuge for indoor action is the UK’s network of climbing walls. They seem to suit a variety of needs for all abilities of climber. Headspace, a mental as well as a physical test, cross training (we know loads of cyclists and runners that climb in winter) or just keeping your eye in. There’s even folk climbing indoors with little desire to ever climb outside. It’s not like one necessitates the other, they are their own thing.

We'd arranged to meet Athena on an impressively wet day in December at Depot Manchester. She was sitting at a table in the attached cafe waiting for us, very at ease with her surroundings. Athena flits between Sheffield and Manchester walls depending on where in the Peak she’s working. Or has she picked work that is near climbing walls? We’re not sure.

We chatted easily for a while; plans for the year, a shared passion for the Peak and a bit about energy snacks, obviously. Eventually we ask if she wanted to climb, so we could take a few pictures. “Yeah, I’m going to climb.” she replies, “...but first I need a cheese toastie.”

"A place you head initially begrudgingly when outdoor rock is too wet to climb. Yet your local wall slowly becomes a second home throughout the winter months."

Athena Mellor, certified fresh-air-head

The only thing that is very like the outside is how cold the cavernous climbing centers are, for those not climbing anyway. Athena gradually sheds layers as she warms up, methodically moving through the different problems. What they lack in warmth these places make up for in colour, geometric shapes and texture that is at odds with the shades of grey outside. Everything is covered in a thin layer of chalk, with the odd smear of dried blood visible beneath - offerings to the climbing Gods.

Walking around on a huge squishy mat is kind of satisfying, neck permanently craned up at overhanging bodies and out of reach holds. Athena is in a rhythm now; arrive at problem, study problem, put down clothes, sip of water, brush holds, attempt problem, re-attempt until successful, pick-up clothes, move on. Climbing walls are a very pleasing way to test your brain and body simultaneously and are adaptable to however you're feeling that day. Doable on your own, or others.

Eventually we leave Athena to it, once she’s eaten a Choc Kendal Mint Cake OP bar, which she assures us wasn’t just for the camera. Here’s how she describes climbing walls:

“A place you head initially begrudgingly when outdoor rock is too wet to climb. Yet your local wall slowly becomes a second home throughout the winter months. You chat to strangers about projects you can’t yet top, drink cups of tea while waiting for the pump to disappear from your forearms, and only leave when the skin on your fingers is too sore to bear pulling on anymore plastic holds.”

“I like to think of them as 'factories of chalk and training', where time goes by so quickly you leave into a darkness you had no idea had already arrived. Ultimately though, you spend night after night at the wall for that one dry day when you can get back onto your project and maybe, just maybe, get to the top this time.”

Since then, we've seen that Athena has made it out on the actual rock several times, as soon as the rain stops. She is not an indoor only climber. Athena and her partner Harvey are the epitome of a fresh-air-head; neither are slaves to one outdoor pursuit, they walk, swim, pedal and sleep in the van if it means they're first on the crag. Both are big proponents of UK exploration too. She has a super engaging youtube channel you could easily while away a few well spent hours on.

We’ve got some exciting plans in the pipeline in conjunction Athena's range of guidebooks 'for the modern explorer', Ramble Guides. Her knowledge of the Peak is second to none, so it made sense to make our first fresh-air-head event together a ramble from Edale on March 29th. Details of route are to be confirmed, but you can register your interest here. There will be all natural energy bars, there will be a nice long brew-up stop and there will be doggos, see you there.

Thanks for chatting to us Athena, see you in the Peak.