This week our sports explorers travelled all the way to Cascais, a seaside town just outside Lisbon, to go rock-climbing on the jagged cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s 10am on a beautiful June morning just outside the seaside town of Cascais. The coastline is azure, a resplendent blue, and the morning sun reflects in dazzling flashes on the water. I’m here with Onya the Photographer, the brave soul who clambered atop a capsizing boat just to get the perfect snap for this blog post, and today we’re going rock-climbing.
“You made it!” Says Francisco as he pulls up in his car. Francisco is the co-founder of FY Nature, an outdoor activities company who use the natural landscape around Lisbon to teach coasteering, surfing, rock-climbing and bouldering. Today he will be showing us the ropes, as it were.
Francisco is about 6’1, tanned, fair-haired and looks a lot like Tony Hawk. “Welcome to Lisbon!” He says and starts unloading copious amounts of ropes, helmets and harnesses from the boot of his car. “This is Sebastian,” he says. “He’ll be helping us out today.” Sebastian climbs out the passenger seat. He has a bright, friendly face and grins good-naturedly as he shakes our hands. “Don’t worry,” he says. “I’m a climbing expert. I’ve done this at least twice before.” My laugh fades into a whimper as the joke slowly sinks in. “Let’s go!” They say and Onya and I follow them down the uneven stone steps to the bottom of the cliff face.
The view is breathtaking, the sea the same deep blue as an evening sky, but I’m not focussing on the scenery right now. Instead I’m staring at the sheer cliff face that I’m about to climb up. We clamber down to the bottom and Sebastian immediately hands me a harness and helmet and starts attaching things to me. They must be able to see my face has drained of colour because they ask me questions about Urban Sports Club to distract me. It works for a second until I look up and realise what’s about to happen.
The cliff is about 20 metres high. We’re standing on a platform of rock which separates us from the sea by about ten metres. Salt water sprays my face as waves crash against the jagged rocks. Francisco begins to climb up the route I’ll be taking, attaching ropes through clips that have already been drilled into the wall. He leaps from one rock to the next like a springbok. My attempt will closer resemble a wildebeest.
“Ready?” Francisco says as he clambers down. Sebastian clips a rope to my harness and taps my helmet. “You’ll be fine.” He says. “You’ll get to the top.” He seems very certain about this. A fresh sea breeze cools my sweating face as I put my hands on the bare rock and begin to climb. Each time I move upwards Sebastian hoists the rope so I can’t fall an inch. The morning sun shines at an angle, warming my already overheated face. The crags hurt my fingers.
From afar it looks like there are no finger holds in the rock. Up close I can confirm: there are no finger holds in the rock. “This is a level four climb.” Sebastian shouts up. I’ve never tried beyond level three, I think to myself as my hands slap against sheer rock.
“Use your legs, not your arms!” Sebastian shouts from a couple of metres below me. I can feel him hoisting my harness each time I move upwards. I get over the first crag. “Now you need to move to the opposite side of the rock face!” I feel nauseous. My heart is thumping against my chest. As I get higher the climb becomes harder. In my mind I’m screaming and shouting – but afterwards Onya tells me I was completely silent.
I’m struggling to find a hand hold to get around the cliff face. A small crowd has gathered below me. Maybe they can see I’ve been stuck in the same position for a long time – they want to see if I’ll ever move again or if this is just where I live now. A woman shouts encouragement from below. “You can do it!” She says.
“Thanks!” I respond weakly, refusing to look down.
I take a deep breathe and use my legs to push me up to the other side of the rock face. But I can’t find a hand hold. I claw at the rock face hopelessly and then scream in terror as I lose my grip and fall to my death.
Oh it’s fine. I’m just dangling in the air like an oversized baby. “You’re alright.” They say from beneath me. It’s true. I am. Okay then I’ll carry on.
Each time I step up Sebastian hoists me upwards so I begin to use him as a human chair lift. At some points I have no choice – there’s literally nothing to grip on to. But now I’m over the fear of falling I’m not so scared. I use my legs as instructed and climb higher and higher, hoisted by Sebastian and encouraged by Onya and Francisco. My fingers hurt but wow! Look at that view! This is living! This is nature! I’m officially wholesome!
Then suddenly “That’s it! You’ve done it! You can’t go any higher than that!” A crag overhead signals I’ve reached the top. “Well done!” They say. “Hold on to the rope!” I grab the rope so tight my knuckles go white and slowly abseil down. I’m so relieved to be back on solid ground I have to suppress a sob.
I need a rest before my next climb so me, Francisco and Sebastian bully Onya into trying the route. She’s wearing Buffalo trainers and has never climbed before but, seeing as she’s the bravest photographer in the world, she tries anyway. She screams bloody murder the entire way, making it half way up until she says very quickly in a thick Irish accent “Letmedownletmedownletmedownletmedown.” No one argues, she abseils down.
I climb another wall after a 20 minute break. This one is much easier – I’m actually able to enjoy it – and I ask Francisco why I started with such a difficult route. “So you can enjoy the rest of the climbing!” He says.
After our climbing session Francisco, Sebastian and I sit on a large flat rock overlooking the ocean. I want to find out more about FY Nature. “I founded FY-Nature with two business partners, two friends,” Francisco tells me. “One of them is a mountain expert and he brought the climbing and the mountain experience to the team. I’m the surfer – I started climbing when I founded this company.”
Francisco’s favourite thing about his job is it allows him to truly switch off. “We’re always connected, we’re always looking at our phones, and climbing and surfing we just obstruct ourselves from that and that’s the good thing about nature. It’s very relaxing – no one would take a smartphone surfing. That would be stupid. And that’s the thing about nature activities that I like the most. You can be in the moment.”
Sebastian says “And that’s the idea of the company. It’s about showcasing the natural world and taking people away from technology – making them really live and experience the moment. At least that’s what I try to do when I teach surfing or climbing. It’s about making sure people enjoy it as much as I did when I first started.”
Looking back on my first climb today all I was thinking about was how to get to the next hold – my mind was totally free from everyday worries.
“FY stands for From Youth or Forever Young,” Francisco says. “And when we were young we were in nature, we were playing outside. And when I surf and when I climb it’s like bringing me back to those moments.” He pauses for a second and looks out to the crashing waves. “You know those moments when time stops? When you surf your first wave, time will stop for sure. Moments like that – you keep for the rest of your life. And nature gives you that.”
If you’d like to try outdoor sports around Lisbon, take a look at FY Nature’s website to find out what’s available for USC members.
And Urban Sports Club has tons of climbing partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.