A freelance climbing photographer and presenter, Liam rubs shoulders with the greatest climbers in the world – and he’s pretty handy on the rocks himself, too
From inner Mongolia to the north-eastern fringes of Canada, Liam Lonsdale travels the world armed with his trusty camera and a passion for adventure. Whether it’s a Patagonia photo shoot or an international climbing competition, Lonsdale is usually found hanging off a rock, testing himself physically and mentally to get the perfect shot. As our Boulduary 2018 campaign draws to a close, we caught up with him at ISPO Munich to find out more about his relationship with bouldering and what fuels his adventurous lifestyle.
Do you have much experience with bouldering?
Bouldering is my main form of climbing training. I find that it gives me the best base level across all the disciplines. I do all sorts of climbing, bouldering through to big wall – it depends on whatever I’m shooting – but bouldering is that base level where I can top up my power. I can boulder 30 different problems and get super pumped. I’m really fortunate that there’s a really good bouldering gym near to where I live at the moment: Boulder UK, in Preston. It’s one of the best gyms in the UK, for sure. It’s quite new and super under the radar.
What makes it so good?
The route setters, led by Ian Vickers, who is a legend of British climbing and the first Brit to win a European title, have an incredible setting style. It’s very technical, very powerful, very basic; you know, bouldering gyms these days tend to favour a gymnastic style set-up that’s more like a competition style but Ian is all about taking a small hold quite high and moving it all the way through the range of motion to another small hold. High feet, bad holds – that’s the way to get strong.
You mentioned that bouldering is your main form of training – do you go bouldering specifically to improve areas of your climbing or just for fun?
I mean, I love bouldering as a sport in its own right. I’ll go out bouldering for a day at a brilliant cliff near where I live – again, quite an under the radar venue but brilliant gritstone climbing. I think it’s one of the best in the country with some brilliant views over Lancashire. It’s also just a really nice way to stay fit and stay in touch with people. I use it for all sorts; it’s almost like meditation.
We spoke to Steve McClure a little while ago and he mentioned getting into this peaceful, almost transcendent zone while climbing – do you find the same?
I certainly feel like climbing is an escape from a lot of things. As Steve said, when you get onto a longer route of maybe 30-40m of really engrossed climbing, it can push you to your mental limit as well as your physical limit. If you switch for even half a second then you’re out of there. It’s definitely an escape from a lot of stuff.
So, basic advice for anyone looking to get into climbing – would it be start with bouldering?
No, my basic advice would be either to go and seek out a course at a climbing gym or an outdoor centre; I think if you can start outside then it’s better. Obviously indoor gyms and walls are amazing but I think the outdoors is a really special thing. Try and learn from climbers as well; try and find someone you know that already climbs. Certainly the progression that I saw in climbing came from the fact that I surrounded myself with really talented climbers – I saw these guys and thought they were amazing, and it just happened that they were some of the best in the world, and the next thing you know we were climbing together.
Is there a significant difference between indoor and outdoor climbing? Is the outdoors much more difficult?
I think the difficulty comes from the transition. If you’re an indoor climber going outdoors, you are used to big holds, coloured holds, big foot holds; I mean, feet are the most important part of climbing. 100%. Grip strength is nothing compared to being able to use your feet – just try climbing a slab with just hands. So going outside is often very difficult because people can’t see the holds and don’t know where to put their feet.
I think the most important thing, no matter where you start, if you’re climbing outside is called crag stewardship. It’s understanding that you have to brush the holds after you’ve used them as well as before to get the chalk off. Don’t leave toilet paper on the ground; try not to shit on the crag. Sometimes you’ve got to go, and that’s fine, but do it away from the rock and bury your shit. You need to respect the environment that you’re in and not just for climbers, for anyone.
Everybody’s out there doing the same thing: enjoying the outdoors. It’s better for non-climbers to see rock that’s clean, it’s better for us to see rock that’s clean, and it preserves the rock. So crag stewardship is super important regardless of if you’re an indoor or outdoor climber.
How often do you get out climbing yourself?
It depends on my shooting schedule – I’m a freelance photographer so I shoot for Events For Life, Patagonia, all sorts of people. I also work as a presenter, so I present the Ice Climbing World Cup and all sorts of competitions. If I’m presenting the Ice Climbing World Cup and it’s somewhere like inner Mongolia, then training and bouldering is pretty difficult. But last week, for example, I was in Switzerland and I managed to take three days to go and train in one of the gyms in Bern; a brilliant facility where a lot of the Swiss team train. I try to work it in. If I’m at home then I climb every day.
If you could pick one type of climbing, anywhere you want, what would it be?
I think if I was going to pick one style of climbing to do forever it would probably be sport climbing, which on the face of it sounds quite shallow, but objectively it’s the least dangerous so I’m thinking for the rest of my life, I’ll be able to do that when I’m old and decrepit! It allows you to push yourself physically with objective dangers being quite low, and I feel like you’d get the most out of it for the rest of your life. But really, any type of climbing would do.
There’s no bad option, is there?
No – [imagine] a warm spring day in the Lakes climbing a high mountain crag, like…wow. Trad climbing, just spending a couple of hours on a four or five pitch route – there are few things better in life than that. So yeah, I just love climbing.
Visit Liam’s website