Climbing is a sport, a hobby, a test; a means of escaping life’s anxieties, a way to discover one’s limits and then defy them.
In the simple yet primal struggle between man and rock, life’s superfluous concerns fade away while the core values that define the human condition are magnified and tested. The will to succeed, the pursuit of perfection, the drive for the realization of one’s potential, and the cold resolve in the face of a challenge compete with the doubts, fears, insecurities, and uncertainties that linger always in the minds of even the most seasoned climbers. Just as the rock itself was forged by the scorching fires and extreme pressures found deep beneath the earth’s crust, so too are exceptional people from all ages and places formed, defined, and shaped by the trials that they overcome. In this way rock climbers engage in the timeless human struggle for relevancy, self-assurance, and greatness as they subject themselves to the adversity and tribulations that are inextricably bound to the sport.
Yea ok sorry that was a pretty dramatic intro…but isn’t that how intros should be?
An introduction should get you jacked up! Like the Monday night football theme song. Duh duh duh dummm daaa daaa daaa duh duh duh duh dummm! Basically what I’m trying to say is that rock climbing is all about the challenge. And it’s a very personal thing. You’re fighting an inanimate object that’s millions of years old and an all powerful law of physics. Rock and Gravity vs. Human Being… that’s pretty epic stuff and once you try it there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked. I got hooked.
It was a Wednesday. School was cancelled because of the snow and I got a call from a friend asking me if I wanted to go rock climbing at an indoor climbing gym called Adventure Rock. I said sure “Why not?” Why. Not. Whyyyy not. This is the dabbler’s creed. It probably explains the majority of the decisions made in my life and its something you have to embrace whole-heartedly if you want to reach expert dabbler status. If a door opens; walk through it, see what’s inside.
So through the door of Adventure Rock we walked and into a world of blistered hands, aching forearms and granola fueled fun.
Looking up we saw forty foot walls covered in fake rock with routes and holds marked off in neon colored tape. We got shoes, harnesses, and a quick belaying lesson, then hit the walls. The learning curve was steep. And humbling. The initial frustration of not being able to latch on to some of the micro sized hand holds gave way to awe when we saw kids half our age and people three times our age accomplish what we could not. Climbing isn’t all about strength, its mostly technique and it requires the kind of multi-move strategy that you find in chess. Skill and patience trump power. Strength certainly is important, but it’s not all about pecs and biceps. It’s more about fingers and forearms, and it does take a couple weeks of consistent climbing to get your fingers and forearms conditioned to the physical demands of climbing.
A few quick essentials to keep in mind if you are going to try climbing for the first time.
Make sure you rent shoes. Climbing shoes are hugely helpful because their soles are rigid which helps you eek out a foothold or a toe-hold from the tiniest of places. Climbing has so much to do with how you use your feet. If you climb with your legs you save arm and finger strength which often are the first things to go. Also if you use the outside of the soles of your shoes to stand on little footholds called chips, you not only reduce the stress on your toes, but you’re also able to get your hips close to the wall which diminishes the stress on your fingers. So in short, use climbing shoes, and climb with your legs, not your arms!
Go with a friend. Or make friends while there. Climbing, while a personal competition, is a very social sport and climbers are generally super helpful and eager to pass on helpful hints.
Watch and learn from more experienced climbers and think more about technique then about powering through a climb. If you complete a route that’s great. Now try it again but this time focus on limiting your exertion, being more efficient, more graceful. This will build good habits and make more difficult climbs in the future easier. It’s all about conserving energy for when you really need it.
Be careful. The risks are pretty obvious. Check your knots before you go up.
Climbing in an indoor climbing gym is a good way to polish some basic techniques and it’s definitely safer. Make sure you climb real rocks though. It’s a whole other ballgame. Your holds aren’t marked for you so it demands more creativity and forethought. Climbing outside on real rock is awesome. It’s a truly special way to connect with nature. Keep in mind though, you need someone experienced with setting anchors and ropes to ensure you don’t go splat.
Above all, give it your best shot!
The first few weeks can be frustrating but also extremely rewarding as you make a ton of progress. Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment after you reach the top of a really tough climb. Looking down with throbbing fingers and aching forearms and knowing that you just extended your own limits is an addicting rush.
There’s a lot more to be said about climbing, but I wouldn’t want to spoil all the surprises so go ahead and start dabbling!