I’m going to be frank: I don’t really get the allure of rock climbing. It doesn’t seem to have a very practical application. If I want to get to the top of something I’d much rather walk the long way, or ride a mule, or take a helicopter, or a jet pack… pretty much any other form of transportation seems more appealing than forcing my feeble body up a vertical surface clinging to the unstable outer layer of a million year old eroding rock.
Rock climbing is dangerous. Haven’t you guys seen 127 Hours? I’d really like to keep all my limbs, thank you very much. You must entrust safety to your belaying buddy on the ground. Aren’t all rock climbers hippies? Hippies don’t exactly have the best reputation for being detail oriented, if you know what I mean. Also, climbing is labor intensive and requires significant athleticism. So let’s recap: rock climbing is a physically demanding, somewhat impractical, dangerous activity that requires specialized training and expensive gear. This is going to be a fun adventure.
Obviously I’m being a bit over dramatic. Rock climbing is an activity I’ve never really understood, but that’s partly why I wanted to try it. While the neighborhood kids scaled trees and hung haphazardly off the monkey bars I always kept my jelly shoes planted firmly on the ground. To my credit this was the 80’s, there were some seriously wicked money bars. Remember those huge monkey bar domes of death?
How did anyone survive to adulthood? Rock climbing is like rated R monkey bars on steroids.
As luck would have it, my fellow adventurer Heather’s daughter Lindsay is a rock climbing guru. She has many years of climbing under her belt and is certified to belay. A belayer is the person on the ground who holds your rope and makes sure you don’t crash to your death. Thankfully Lindsay is not a hippie, so that put to rest one of my chief concerns. The three of us embarked to Vertical Endeavors, a local indoor climbing gym. I recognize that indoor climbing is much easier then attempting to scale natural rock, but being as though:
a) I’m kind of a wuss
b) The glaciers dominated Minnesota thus leaving the local landscape painfully flat
There aren’t any great outdoor options nearby so an indoor gym seemed like a good place to start.
Upon arrival I was asked to sign an extremely lengthy waiver. In addition to signing away any liability for injury or death, I’m fairly certain I may have also signed over my first child to Rumpelstiltskin and perhaps agreed to donate a kidney to Alec Baldwin. Who reads those things anyways?
I was taken on a brief orientation for which I absorbed exactly two percent of the relevant information. I was firmly focused on how awkward gentlemen’s parts look like in climbing harnesses. Don’t try and tell me you don’t look too! I was very happy to be a women for a brief moment. This dissolved fairly quickly when I realized that a very important component of rock climbing is upper body strength, thus giving men a significant advantage.
After orientation I was given my gear: a harness and some shoes. The shoes looked like garage sale bowling shoes. Lindsey informed me that they were to be worn sans socks. I took a mental note: buy some Lamisil on the way home.
After getting buckled into our gear we made our way to a seemingly harmless wall for my first attempt at climbing. Heather had been climbing a few times before so I requested she go first to demonstrate. She made it look fairly easy. Lindsay was giving very constructive feedback from the ground, “Move your left hand to the pink hold.”
As Heather descended to the ground and Lindsey buckled me in I thought this was going to be easy-peasy. Not so much. It took some serious strength and body awareness to move up the wall. Despite Lindsay’s coaching to “use your legs, not your arms” I blew out my arm strength on my first assent. I basically pulled myself up the wall. I’m not Jean Claude VanDamme, upper body strength is not my forte. This strategy was clearly not an affective approach for me.
On our next attempt I worked harder to be aware of my footing and use my leg strength. I found it difficult to push hard off my feet when they felt so unstable. Basically you have to focus your power into the tiny part of your foot that is supported. It took a lot more balance than I anticipated. I fall down weekly, often while just walking leisurely. Distance running has earned me strong and powerful legs, but I quickly learned while clinging to a fake rock face that my legs lacked vertical agility.
Another surprising aspect of the climb was how quickly and succinctly it challenged me. I’m in good shape, but I found myself breathing heavily several times. I was happy to have Lindsay holding my weight as I often needed a few breaks to regroup and refocus my exertion. It was definitely a work out.
We stuck with fairly easy climbs. Despite being some of the oldest people in the gym, Heather and I were doing well… or at least not looking like total idiots.
I was feeling particularly proud after conquering a climb that I considered to be fairly difficult, only to watch a crowd of fifth graders stack up in a line for their turn at this route. “This is our favorite warm-up climb,” one girl said. “We love this one because it’s so easy!” That comment managed to quickly deflate me while simultaneously making me feel old.
After few more climbs and my limbs were toast. We watched Lindsey scramble up a few routes. She climbed about three times faster than me. It was impressive to see her effortless combination of athleticism, determination, experience and youth.
We celebrated our accomplishments with beers and bar food. I learned an important lesion: pretty much any occasion becomes more enjoyable when it is celebrated with pizza and meatloaf sliders.
Will I become the next cliff hanger? No. Will I take another stab at climbing? Yes. Will I continue to giggle at guys’ junk in climbing harnesses? Always.