On 14 January, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the summit of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, California, after nearly three weeks of pulling themselves up 3,000 feet of sheer, vertical rock with their bare hands (and sleeping on it too). Built on seven years of planning and failed attempts, the feat made climbing history and, in a first for a relatively niche, literally on-the-edge sport, headlines around the world.
Was it a sign of cliff faces and carabiners finally breaking into the mainstream or just another symptom of an internet age where everything from feminist firestorms to the colour of a dress can go viral? Not everyone is up for dangling from ledges by their fingertips with only a rope to stop them plummeting to earth thousands of feet below, and few have the ability to conquer anything even remotely like the Dawn Wall. But increasing numbers of people are buying into climbing, even if only to scramble in the foothills of the sport rather than scale the summits.
British climbing 'started as a Victorian pursuit with Victorian gentlemen and the occasional lady going off to the Alps and getting guided up mountains', says British Mountaineering Council chief executive Dave Turnball. By the turn of the 20th century, small groups of students were scaling cliffs in the Peak District and beyond with whatever ropes they could find, he says. It wasn't until the late 1970s, though, when technology made a much wider range of rock faces safe to climb, that the sport really started taking off around the world.