The Colonel is a stalwart of both the Chimera scene and the local sandstone, having cut his teeth on the local rock with his Dad (aka HD – once Hamish started to out-climb his Dad, poor Richard was reduced to ‘Hamish’s Dad’ at the crag.)
As someone who has dedicated his life to date to climbing, Hamish doesn’t just have a wealth of knowledge on training techniques, but can also be drawn into many philosophical debates about the future of his chosen sport. We sat down with him to learn more…
“Growing up, climbing was just a laugh,” says Hamish. “Something to do, somewhere to go. My Dad took me to Harrison’s one March and it was bitterly cold, I got spat off Isolated Buttress as the holds were like clinging onto ice.” While it doesn’t sound like the sort of formative experience that would encourage a love of the sport, climbers are notoriously ‘Type Two’ fun people, and Hamish is no exception.
Lean, with long arms and incredibly strong fingers, Hamish resembles a typical climber except for one aspect, his infamous Colonel’s moustache, carefully groomed and impressively bushy. While most climbers sport dishevelled stubble, Hamish’s moustache looks like it belongs in any Hipster bar in Soho, but instead of being paired with a waistcoat and ironic bow tie, you can normally find him in his familiar green Chimera t-shirt, demonstrating problems with ease in a pair of battered sneakers.
Hamish is still in his early twenties, having returned to the South East following the completion of his degree. The degree was chosen less for the subject matter than the location of the University – of course he went to Derby, to have the Peaks on his doorstep and the Yorkshire moors not that much further afield. Three years of exploration on some classic grit and limestone problems has left him an even more all-round climber, and his feats on the local sandstone since he returned to Tunbridge Wells are starting to attract notice.
“It’s always bouldering,” he says when asked what he’d rather spend his days doing. “I like a group for the vibes, but when I’m projecting I just want a couple of people, trying the same climb. Or sometimes I just want to go alone, work the moves, do things at my own pace. In a big group, you end up at the mercy of others and lose the rhythm, are you holding people up, do they want to move on.”
He’s been blessed with a couple of mates who climb at the same grade, each pushing the other on through their teenage years until now, as seasoned climbers, they are able to project together and leave the socialising for easier days out.
But with a whole host of hard ascents already ticked, a job in climbing and a building reputation, what comes next for The Colonel?
“I want to send 8B,” is the surprisingly swift answer. “I was so frustrated last trip, trying Keen Roof at Raven Tor. I got all the moves but couldn’t link them.”
Keen Roof might be the project, but there is some debate in climbing circles now as to the grade, with the first ascent going with no knee bar. Now potential rest spots have been discovered, and Hamish thinks that makes it a soft 8B at best. But does it matter? Unless you are a sponsored athlete and contracted to send a certain number of grades, does the subjectivity of each climbing route not allow for deviations to the original beta?
Leaning back in his chair, you can sense this is a topic that Hamish has given much consideration to. “Well, that’s the thing isn’t it? Have you sent it or not? Can you claim it? Who does it really matter to?”
Underneath the chilled demeanour, you sense that actually, this does matter. He might not mind what other people choose to claim, but Hamish is rightly proud of his achievements, and doesn’t come across as someone who wants to embellish his own record unfairly, or unjustifiably.
While the grading debate can’t be settled over one cup of tea and looks set to rage for years to come, it isn’t the only philosophical discussion Hamish is happy to wade in on. Anyone who climbs in the South East knows about the sandstone situation, and the stress that the local rock is under from the boom in popularity of climbing in general.
Heavily against any ideas of permits, Hamish’s view on the local crags is that the rock is there to be enjoyed, simply for as long as us locals are lucky enough to have it. “It’s literally sand, it’s never going to survive a millennia of climbers is it?” he asks candidly. “Be sensible with it, respect the rules, but have fun. That’s all climbing is at the end of the day.”
So despite being a top coach, with a wealth of training guides and nutrition plans at his disposal, does it really just boil down to pure enjoyment?
“Absolutely. You can over-think anything. Yes, if you want to, use the knowledge that’s out there to hone your performance. But climbing is a laugh. It’s your mates, it’s rock, it’s trying hard and laughing when you fall. Way too many people over-complicate it.”
Having steered away from the philosophical, Hamish almost becomes wistful when asked about his favourite climbing experiences.
“St Bee’s is the best climbing in the UK. Bullet hard sandstone, the best features you could ask for, all set on wave cut platforms, with the sea crashing behind you.”
“Sketchy descents keep it real,” he adds with a wry laugh. More Type Two fun? “Nah, it’s not that bad. You’ve got the bright red rock, the Isle of Man behind you, sea gulls squawking overhead. Best rock you’ve ever felt. Forget the training, forget the meal plan. It’s just brilliant.”
A professional climber who doesn’t take his own climbing nearly as seriously as that of those around him, Hamish seems to be a new brand of the old-school dirtbags. He knows what he’s doing, he’s got the gadgets and the knowledge base to back it up. But when it really comes down to how you want to live your life, it really is just about pulling hard and having fun for The Colonel. Something we can all get on board with.