About three months ago, a couple of students asked if I’d like to go to Rocks and Ropes, a local indoor rock climbing gym. I imagined my fat ass scaling up a rock wall and answered as ambiguously as possible. They were thankfully persistent, however, and finally persuaded both my boyfriend, Ian, and I to make a trip out to downtown Tucson to visit Rocks and Ropes.
The first visit was a bit pricey: $30.00 for an equipment rental, entrance fee, and mandatory lesson (normally it’s only about $15.00 a visit with equipment). My teacher was a bit of a rock climbing snob, and I was a nervous, uncoordinated mess. It took me four times to tie my simple figure 8 knot. The gym was huge and crowded. I couldn’t help but think everyone would point and laugh at me. I was intimidated to say the least.
I’m writing this to let you know that if these are the feelings you have on your first visit, you know you aren’t alone! But after my first successful climb, I knew I was hooked. The most addictive part of climbing for me is the ranked walls. They’re on a scale from 4-13, 4 being the easiest and 13 being the most difficult. Needless to say, my first wall was a 4. But then I climbed a 5, and then another 5! During my climbs, I was able to push myself and reach a goal in a very tangible way. Touching my two hands to that top rock was such a feeling of accomplishment. If I fell, I didn’t give up. I’d relax back into my harness, rest, and contemplate my next move. Climbing is physically challenging, but it’s also mentally stimulating as well. You need to think about foot and hand placement and plan out your routes. By the end of my first day, my forearms, back, and legs were killing me. I could barely open my car door, and I could barely wait to go back the next week. Now I go three times a week and can’t wait to get my own equipment!
One of the nicest parts of climbing is how quickly you progress. After only three months of climbing I’ve progressed from doing 4s and 5s to scaling an 8+! And I’m proud to say that for the first time in my life, I can now do not one, but two consecutive pull ups. I definitely give rock climbing the credit for this.
So why do I look so sad? You’ll notice that the cheery boy to the right has on a stylish new grey harness, special black climbing shoes, and a trendy hip hugging bag brimming with chalk to aid him in gripping onto those tiny holds.
Now, let’s examine this sad girl to the left. Her rental-blue harness doesn’t fit quite right, her old stretched out climbing shoes were filled with what she hoped wasn’t sweat when she put them on, and all she has is a plastic bag of chalk to hold between her teeth while she tries desperately to scale the walls.
I think you get the point. If you get serious about climbing and decide to go more than once a week, a set of equipment is worth it. Not only is it cheaper than renting the gear if you’re going a couple of times a week, but it’s also infinitely more comfortable. Fitted shoes that are super grippy also making climbing MUCH easier. Truth be told, I steal Ian’s chalk bag when I climb so I’m not without this powdery gripping agent at any crucial moments. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing I had my own.
Your Belayer and You
If you decide to go climbing, try your hardest to persuade a friend to go with you! You’ll need someone to belay you up the wall unless your gym has autobelayers. While you tie into the climbing rope, your partner will hook their harness up to the other end of the rope with a carabiner. Their job is very very important, so make sure you’re going with someone you trust! They’ll be the ones picking up the slack you create from climbing, and without them, you’d plummet to the ground. You’ll be putting the fate of most of your bones in their hands, so no climbing after a fight! I think climbing has a lot of social potential, so I try to invite all my friends. So far we’ve got a nice little group going! It makes it harder to cancel when you know there is a group waiting for you, and their moral support is always appreciated when I reach the crux of the challenge.
Your Autobelayers and You
Autobelayers are little machines that do the belaying for you. There are few problems I have with this. First of all, even though they are probably statistically more reliable than a human belayer, I have trouble letting go and trusting that they’ll slowly lower me to the ground. That may partially be due to their second downfall– there’s no way to lock them into place and just sit back, relax, and regroup. That means that if you need to adjust your hand/foot, get some chalk, or sneeze, you’re just coming down. All your progress was for naught. The upside is these bad boys make you a much more efficient, technical climber. While I can usually climb 7s with ease, I’ve been working on this one for a while. Today, I was one hold away from the top. So close! They also give your potentially exhausted belaying buddies a break– while belaying isn’t normally very taxing, after climbing a few walls your forearms start to scream at the thought of any movement.
If you start climbing regularly, you need to start building confidence. It’s impossible to really get into a climb if you’re worried about how your ass looks in the harness. Don’t worry if you don’t feel confident right away, but know that the better you get, the more confident you’ll get. And the more confident you get, the more likely you’ll be to try a technique, like switching feet by hopping, or crossing over your arms. You’ll start gripping onto holds and pulling yourself up heights you never thought possible. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. If you start climbing, even once a week, you’ll notice a difference in your body as well. You’ll get a sexy back, for starters. You’ll also notice your everyday balance and coordination improve.
To prove my confidence, i’ll post some pictures Ian took of me using the autobelayer, with my rotund derriere displayed proudly in my harness.
A Controlled Environment
While i’d love to give “real” rock climbing a try now, I’m glad i started in a gym. I feel safe when I’m there. The staff is (usually) friendly and helpful, the ropes are changed frequently and are in good condition, and there’s no exposure to the elements. This doesn’t mean the courses are foolproof though! You will probably end up with bruised knees or elbows from trying -ahem- creative climbing at some difficult spots. Also, there’s human error, so make sure that your harness is on correctly and your belayer is hooked in correctly! I’ve definitely climbed with my harness straps not double-backed through before. The realization was a little scary, but a lot of the equipment is doubly safe to account for human error, so there weren’t any messy tumbles. The scariest thing i ever witnessed was someone on a more advanced wall lunging for a grip and somehow flipping himself upside-down while suspended 25 feet in the air. He was laughing down at our horrified faces, and was lowered without a problem, but if it were me, I would have pooped myself. Also, sometimes the holds are a little loose or wobbly (or even moist–eww!), though the gym is pretty good with maintenance & upkeep. Like a total badass, Ian single-footedly completely demolished a foothold today that will have to be replaced.
So that’s that! If you’re at all curious about climbing and you have a free night and some spare cash, I STRONGLY recommend giving climbing a try. It’s a great way to actually be excited and look forward to working out on a Friday night!