Sunday 19 November 2017

You are my rock! Meet the Irish couples who climb heights together

Rock climbing is a sport of trust, so who better to climb with than your partner in love? Arlene Harris meets the couples who have taken their relationships to new heights

Dave Ayton and Caroline Harney-Dayton in their Awesome Walls climbing centre in Finglas. Photo: Tony Gavin
Dave Ayton and Caroline Harney-Dayton in their Awesome Walls climbing centre in Finglas. Photo: Tony Gavin
Climbers James and Rosie MacManus, owners of Earths Edge. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Dave Ayton and Caroline Harney-Dayton in Awesome Walls climbing centre in Finglas. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mike Jones from Killaloe in Co Clare is the owner of He and his wife Andree Walkin Jones both discovered a like of climbing. Photo: Brian Gavin

Trust is a crucial element in any relationship but while most of us have the utmost faith in our partners, relying on them for safety on the edge of a steep cliff face really does take trust to a whole new level.

But this is exactly what couples who climb together face on a regular basis. Not only must they both have the same level of fitness, ability and courage but they also need to have complete faith in their other half, as there will be times when they will be relying on their skill, integrity and, ultimately, love to help them reach the summit.

We spoke to three couples who climb together to find out what is the appeal, what it's like to be hanging off a dangerous precipice with your partner and whether or not partaking in the adrenalin sport enhances a relationship…

Mike & Andree

Mike Jones from Killaloe in Co Clare is the owner of He and his wife Andree Walkin Jones both discovered a like of climbing. Photo: Brian Gavin

Mike Jones (35) from Killaloe in Co Clare is the owner of and has been climbing since he was 16. He met his wife Andree Walkin Jones (36) in college where the pair discovered that they both enjoyed climbing.

Mike says there is nothing more exhilarating than scaling a mountain, particularly when you are achieving something together with your partner.

"I love being outdoors, pitting myself against a route or problem and the feeling of accomplishment when reaching the top," he says. "The camaraderie of working together to achieve a common goal is great, as is the complete trust this requires. Climbing is also a fun way for Andree and I to forget about everyday distractions and focus on something different while simply enjoying each other's company."

Similarly sporty, wife Andree works for the University of Limerick's Sport Activity Centre and says that, while there is nothing better than climbing with Mike, there are times when the going gets tough.

"Your climbing partner must be someone you trust with your life," she says. "When you are a couple, it can strengthen your relationship as it's just you on one end of the rope and your partner on the other with nobody else around for miles - so if something goes wrong, you have to know this person can handle the situation and make the best call.

"But this can also cause the odd bit of friction and Mike and I have been known to have a few words while climbing together - especially if one is left standing around in cold conditions waiting for the other to make a move. But overall it's an awesome experience to be able to climb together and achieve a common goal."

However, despite the sometimes tense nature of the sport, both Andree and Mike hope to be climbing for a long time to come.

"I feel there is something amazing about the connection of bare hands on rock and the sound of crampons kicking into ice or simply a piece of climbing gear clinking together while hanging from a harness," says Andree.

"I don't think there are any downsides apart from the odd injury, which you can get in any sport. Although the weather can be challenging at times, there are plenty of indoor climbing walls so I feel it will always be part of our lives as a couple, no matter how old we are."

"We are lucky that we share so many interests and climbing has definitely helped to build trust and understanding between us," adds Mike. "So I would say we will be enjoying this together for a long time to come."

Dave & Caroline

Dave Ayton and Caroline Harney-Dayton in Awesome Walls climbing centre in Finglas. Photo: Tony Gavin

Dave Ayton and Caroline Harney (both 34) are married with two small children, Mathilda (4) and David (2). The couple run with climbing centres in Cork and Dublin, so it's hardly surprising that they both have a deep love of rock climbing.

"I climbed out of my cot before I could walk and from then on was climbing anything I could," says Dave. "First it was trees until I saw a National Geographic article when I was 12 with some amazing shots of people rock climbing - I was fascinated. Then, at about 16, a friend and I used to go to a quarry with some rope and practise climbing - there was really nothing else I wanted to do."

Caroline also had a very active childhood but was more interested in running than climbing. Then, having taken part in an outdoor pursuit programme in Dublin, she also got bitten by the bug.

"I used to work at an indoor climbing wall in Clontarf and one summer having been away on a road trip, I came back to find this new girl working there," recalls Dave. "I was introduced to Caroline who was doing some part-time hours - and the rest, as they say, is history."

His wife credits climbing with not only an introduction to her husband-to-be but also the opportunity to see his true personality.

"Not long after we met, Dave asked me if I wanted to go climbing with him outside work and I agreed as we had become friends quite quickly," says Caroline. "It didn't take long for our friendship to turn into a relationship and I really believe that climbing helped to speed things along.

"I was able to really see what Dave was like when we were out climbing together and learned that he was trustworthy and calm as well as being very tough and always opting for fight over flight, which I found very attractive. That's the thing about climbing - it's impossible to hide anything as when you are hanging there on a cliff face your personality is completely revealed and in Dave's case, I was able to see all his great qualities."

Now married with two children, the Dublin couple don't get to climb as much as they did in the past, but with their youngsters following in their footsteps, it won't be long before the whole family is climbing together.

"Caroline and I have had some great adventures and climbed in some amazing places around the world," says Dave. "The kids are small now so we don't get to do as much, but I imagine they will both want to climb mountains as soon as they are able - Mathilda has already been climbing some of the small walls at our centre and David loves thrashing about with all the gear on."

Caroline agrees: "The kids are always on the go and I have no doubt that they will want to start climbing properly as soon as they are able. They have grown up seeing Dave and I doing it, so climbing has just become a normal part of their world."

James & Rosie

IW_ James and R_8.jpg
Climbers James and Rosie MacManus, owners of Earths Edge. Photo: Justin Farrelly

James MacManus runs, Ireland's fully-licenced adrenalin travel company, while his wife Rosie is a veterinary surgeon at the DSPCA. Based in Dublin, the couple (both 33) have enjoyed outdoor sports for 20 years and while mountaineering is a huge passion for both of them, they have recently started rock climbing together.

"I had done the odd bit of climbing with friends in college but only started doing it properly this year," says Rosie. "James and I met back in 2001 through kayaking and travelled the world as kayaking and raft guides after college. During that time, we got into trekking and more recently, mountaineering. We started climbing this year in an effort to round ourselves out as mountaineers as we are starting to look at more technical mountains.

"The appeal of rock climbing, I suppose, has to do with the same rush you got when climbing a tree as a kid. Also, there are quite a few aspects to it: you're using your physical ability to get up something but there's also a mental challenge of how you're going to do it while overcoming any fear you have. There's definitely an adrenalin spike involved and a sense of achievement if you manage to pull all those things together. I like that it's a social kind of exercise - the chatting and joking that goes along with tiring your body out is far better than running on a treadmill."

James says the sport appeals to his competitive nature. "Rock climbing really makes you push yourself, plan your route and think ahead," he says. "And as I am an adrenalin sport junkie, I get a fantastic rush from conquering a new challenge."

However, while both James and Rosie believe that being able to climb together is an added bonus, there can be times when tensions run a bit high.

"As the quote from A Tale of Two Cities goes, 'It was the best of times - it was the worst of times'," Rosie jokes while referring to climbing with James. "Anyone will tell you that sharing these kinds of experiences with your partner brings a real high, but sometimes it's hard too. The polite barrier which holds you back from saying what you really mean to an acquaintance just doesn't exist with your partner."

"This means that couples can have lots of rows while climbing together," adds James. "And on a long trip in a small tent, things can be quite intense - I guess when we are stressed, we are often the most cutting to those who are closest to us."

"But on the other hand," says Rosie. "This also means you have a deeper level of trust because you can speak your mind while relying 100pc on each other, as your partner is basically your lifeline."

James agrees and says while climbing hasn't necessarily strengthened their relationship, it has certainly added to its tapestry.

"The fact that Rosie and I climb together really helps to boost the level of trust we have in each other," he says. "We have to be really honest when we are on a rock face together and this is great as climbing can be a very macho sport. It is nice doing it with Rosie as neither of us are trying to prove anything to each other.

"So, while I wouldn't say it has brought us closer together, I do think a shared interest is vital in any relationship. Communication, trust, love and respect along with a common outlook is important whether you go climbing or down the pub together."

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