Learning to Climb

I have only been climbing–and I mean real climbing with someone belaying you– a handful of times in my life. It’s not because I don’t enjoy it. Climbing is a unique challenge of reading rock rather than terrain for skiing or biking or water for rafting. I am not particularly afraid of heights, though I do usually think twice before jumping off of cliffs or looking down from really high heights. I think the real reason I’ve never enjoyed it is because I’ve always been the chubby kid. Being the chubby kid doesn’t prevent most of my activities, but when I was little my partner in gym class was always my friend Lani. Lani is solid as a rock, but petite. She did gymnastics and nordic–the girl is a beast. But, being slightly taller and multiple clothes sizes bigger, it terrified me to have her belay me. What if I fell? My weight would surely send her sky high! Over the years I have learned that the size of the person belaying you has no bearing on their ability to safely belay you on a rock wall. Tell that to a self-conscience teenage girl.

As part of the adventure race my dad and I are attempting next weekend we have to rappel a 300′ wall. As I mentioned in my post Team Stumbleweed, this whole race sounded like a good idea until it became a reality. How hard could rappeling really be? The answer is: its not that hard. The challenge is that I have never had to set one up in a self supported adventure race. Luckily, my neighbor Jason basically rock climbs for a living. Technically he designs and builds them for a company called Eldorado Climbing Walls–but he gets to test them out, so its basically the same thing. Using the currency of the outdoor industry (beer), Jason and I headed up Boulder Canyon to a spot called the Castle Mountain (I think) and spent a few hours going through the basics of setting up a climb and rappel on a 5.5 route (super easy) called the Western Wall.

Side note: climbers wear the most ridiculous shoes. They are more uncomfortable than ski boots on a -20* day without boot heaters. Stupid if you ask me.

Jason walked me through everything from making sure my harness was properly fastened to how to climb over a ledge from below. The coolest part by far was rappelling back over that ledge and just sort of hanging in mid air. The whole experience definitely gets your heart racing. I can see the attraction to the adrenaline for sure.

My neighbor Jason and the Western Wall

The other pretty cool thing about rock climbing is that its not an incredible expense sport to get into. I recognize that I need to add some context to that: (my main sports)

Mountain Biking (bike alone): $3,000+

Skis/Boots (and whatever else you might need to stay warm): Easily $2,000+, not to mention the ski pass.

Hockey equipment: it pains me to think about what Papa Rich spent over the years.

Climbing: $70 harness + $17 a day to get into the climbing gym. Luckily if I want to go outside I have friends who are willing to share ropes, rappel devices, etc.

So, $70 plus my $65 REI dividend later I am now the proud owner of my own climbing harness.

New climbing harness! Yay!

I have a number of friends who are really into climbing, and I can’t promise I am going to spend my weekends seeking out the next cool route, but if someone wants to go climb for a few hours, why not? As was the case last week when my friend Natalie also decided to spend her REI dividend of new climbing gear. We headed to the Boulder Rock Club  (BRC) a few blocks from my house. The BRC is pretty cool because they have 4 types of climbing:

Bouldering: a form of rock climbing that is performed without the use of ropes or harnesses, generally at lower heights.

Auto-belay: Self-regulating magnetic braking system accommodates the widest range of climber weights

Top Rope: a style in climbing in which a rope, used for the climber’s safety, runs from a belayer connected to an anchor system at the top of the route and back down to the climber, usually attaching to the climber by means of a harness.

Lead climbing: does not require a pre-placed anchor at the top of the route, it is often seen as less restricted than top roping.

We started out using a top rope system which meant I needed to learn how to belay and be checked off by one of the staff members. You literally have someones life in your hands, but from a technical standpoint belaying is not super difficult. I struggled with the rhythm of pulling in the rope and making sure it was locked, but people assured me that it just comes with practice. Unfortunately, the time of year a lot of the routes inside are more difficult because the really good climbers are still inside. Most of the easier routes were on an auto-belay system. It’s actually pretty cool because it allowed Natalie and I to climb at the same time–which we couldn’t have done belaying each other.

My forearms and fingers are still pretty sore, but I feel much more confident with ropes, knots and climbing equipment in general going into next weekend. Six days and a counting!


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