How to get into rock climbing at 50. Yes, you can and it’ll get you toned as hell

Michael Keane  learnt to rock climb in later life and is now fitter and stronger than ever. Proving age is no barrier he’s now planning his first Ironman triathlon

Even as he hangs precariously from above, sweat dripping from his face and fingers strained, 59-year-old Michael Keane has no regrets about how he has decided to spend his Friday evening.

Buried inside the archway of a busy railway bridge, we meet at the Vauxhall rock-climbing centre in London.

The nearby pub might seem a more obvious option at this time of the week, yet there is no shortage of Spiderman wannabes ready to scale the indoor walls.

Surrounded by young whippersnappers, it is not unreasonable to say that Michael is one of the senior climbers at the club.

He may not be blessed with the physique of a young man in his 20s, but the guile of his greater years helps navigate his way through the walls of maze.

“I’m not going to be a world champion,” he says. “But when I started I couldn’t even do one chin-up. I hadn’t realised how weak I was. Now I can do a few, my hands have got much stronger and I’m feeling a lot more confident.

“In my mind I’m still quite fit and young. Rock climbing is just as good as going down the gym for an hour or two. I really enjoy the puzzle aspects of it; it looks so simple but it’s actually quite hard.”

Rock climbing in central London

Hours of practice inside the Central London ‘Vauxwall’ club have clearly done no harm to confidence. So much so, that Michael recently found himself clambering across a cliff front in Plymouth when he discovered the coastal path had been washed away.

“We were down in Mount Batten,” he says. “The path had gone and I ended up climbing along the rocks. In places there was a 10 to 20-foot fall. It wasn’t too steep, but I might have sprained or broken an ankle if I fell. It wouldn’t have been too good if I landed on my head!”

“There was a similar occasion, when we were getting some repairs done on our roof. There was no ladder but I was quite happy to pull myself up using the scaffolding. It’s probably not recommended. I’m quite comfortable with three storeys; but I might not want to go any higher.”

Fitness and triathlons for over 50s

So far, Michael has managed to stay injury free – albeit the occasional blister on his hands – in spite of the obvious risks associated with the sport. The mattresses that cover the floor of the Vauxhall club provide comforting reassurance.

Having only taken up the hobby four months ago, he is still getting to grips with the discipline. Cycling, swimming and running were Michael’s previous means of exercise, but now he is ready to push himself one step further.

Next year he plans to compete in the Welsh leg of the Ironman Series – a gruelling triathlon circuit made up of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. A makeshift route set up between his house and Brockwell Lido, where he braves the cold outdoor waters, has made for an ideal training run.

“The rock climbing has actually inspired me to enter the Ironman competition,” says Michael. “The general fitness climbing has given me allowed me to do that. It’s all about control and balance.

“Cycling, running and swimming are very much about doing the same thing over long distances, over and over again. Rock climbing is a bit more like a puzzle. At my age I can’t take on too many sports seriously, but I find it really enjoyable.”

With the weekend fast approaching, he climbs the boulder panel to pose for a couple of photos. “A few months ago I would have laughed if you expected me to be hanging here,” he says, without a strain on his face.