When Font is life - Getting to know Abbi McDonald

January 7, 2024



You might think most climbers who work in a climbing gym come out of the same mould. But here at Chimera, we are proud to work with a huge variety of individuals who come from remarkably diverse backgrounds.

It is time to delve behind the flappers and the finger tape and really get to know the Chimera crew…

Ask the regulars for one word to sum up Senior Instructor and Route Setter Abbi McDonald and most would stay strong. Or friendly. The kids she teaches would probably plump for inspirational.

But how about focused? Driven? Ambitious?

You don’t have to talk to Abbi for long before you begin to see the passion climbing ignites in her soul. She can reel off a long list of Font climbs, correctly pronounced, followed by an obscure list of Font-specialist climbers who have excelled in the magical forest. Ask her for an opinion on any aspect of climbing - from route setting to technique to training plans and nutrition and you’ll get a thoughtful considered response, bourn from years of research.

A background in karate has clearly bred a strong will, not to mention a degree of flexibility and balance that made the switch to climbing a natural one. Yet it might surprise you to learn Abbi has only been climbing a handful of years. She has used that time well though, to motor up through the grades and become a wise climbing head on young shoulders.

An earnest, serious thinker when it comes to climbing, the first glimpse of a smile you get is when the word Font is mentioned. The bouldering mecca was a natural place to put her gains to the test, and she has emerged from several trips to the forest a better all round climber, and a more accomplished one. Nailing the Font 7C Mr Poppers is next on the agenda for Abbi, after the climb was too wet on her last trip. With a string of 7A and 7B routes already ticked, surely it is only a matter of when, not if, that elusive 7C falls.

Having said that, Font trips aren’t just hard sending. There is no better way for this 22 year old to spend her afternoons when resting than with the music on, snacks flying and cheers ringing when other climbers send their projects. Abbi relishes the community aspect as much as anyone, until it is time to climb. Then it is all quiet introspection, and a delicate play between her and the rock. Focus, concentrate, breathe. Precision footwork, strong fingers, delicate shifts of body weight. The inaudible shallow gasp of breath before the final move and then - relief. Sent.

The forest might have given her its best memories, but it isn’t without its pitfalls. On one of her first trips, lost in the baking June sun, she wondered for hours in search of a particular crag. Upon finding it at last, sweat dripping, she couldn’t get her phone to connect to make an international call to alert the others. Cue the hilarity of calling home to get her parents to call the group, who as it turned out, were a five minute walk away chilling in the shade. While a strong sense of direction might hamper her on walk ins, fortunately when it comes to hitting holds, she is pin-point precise.

It isn’t all Font and boulders for Abbi though. A trip to Rocklands a few years ago opened her eyes to a different style of climbing, which while not her forte, proved invaluable nonetheless. Wales is on the agenda for this year when time allows, along with more trips to Portland. Ask about other types of climbing and you get a laugh and a wry smile in response. While she has dabbled in sport and trad, it is clear bouldering is at the heart of everything she does.

So, what of her ambitions inside? Improving her route setting is the number one goal, something she has been working on for some time. Lacking the decades of experience that freelance route setters have, she is using feedback from the regulars to try and gauge which of her blocs are the most successful and why, along with taking onboard advice from the head route setters. While balance based crimpy problems were her favourite, of late she has turned to slopers more and more, replicating the moves she has been perfecting outside. Sandstone isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as the adage goes, it does make you a better climber and Abbi is finding more comfort in slopers than ever before thanks to the amount of time she has spent in Font.

With a degree in Maths to complete, Abbi is a busy lady, with her Personal Training qualifications underway as well. In between study and work, climbing trips and training plans, is there much time for anything else? Or does she even need anything else, when climbing gives her so much joy?

“Work hard, climb hard right?!” Indeed.

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