(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)
I’ve been meaning to try indoor rock climbing for quite a while — close to a year, at least. A few friends gave me a gift card to a rock climbing gym for my birthday last June, so I didn’t have a good excuse for putting it off as long as I did. I did know for sure I wanted to go with someone I knew personally and trusted, and there was one person who fit that description: my friend Tripp.
Tripp has done both indoor and outdoor rock climbing, owns his own equipment, and he’s certified to belay (which means he takes control of my rope when I’m climbing, controls my descent once I’m ready to come down, and basically makes sure I don’t come crashing to the ground if I slip). You have to be trained to do this, which is good — it means you aren’t putting your trust in some random person who may not know what they’re doing.
Tripp picked me up in his station wagon, a car he affectionately refers to as Sheryl the Shaggin’ Wagon (although, for the record, I have not personally witnessed any shaggin’ going on). His accompanying me to the rock climbing place was a little bittersweet for him — he’s dislocated one of his shoulders numerous times and he’s having surgery on it today for the second time, so he figured he’d be better off giving up climbing for good.
At the gym, I rented a harness — you step into it, tightening the straps around your legs and waist — and a pair of flat shoes. (Unfortunately, using rented shoes makes me feel kind of gross, reminding me of all the stinky pairs I’ve rented at bowling alleys and rollerskating rinks. But I persevered.)
I started out on one of the smaller walls, and Tripp had me practice “falling” from a short distance (that way it wouldn’t feel so strange to let go once I was doing so from a higher level). The first time I let go was a little nerve wracking — but once I did, the subsequent times were much easier. (Indeed, by the end I would yell to get Tripp’s attention and pretty much just fall backward, trusting I would land safely on my feet once I was lowered to the ground.)
I climbed a number of times, on a couple of different walls (each wall was different; some of them went straight up while others had protrusions to get around, and the spacing of the “rocks” was always different). I only tried the straight walls, but I got up pretty high. There were a few walls higher than the ones I tried, but I was happy with what I accomplished. I wasn’t sure in advance if being up so high would bother me, but it ended up being okay (plus, I tried to remember to look up instead of down).
I did have one mishap early on, when I was about 10 feet off the ground. There’s a rope that was connected to a ring on the waist of my harness, and the knot was hanging directly in front of my face. For some reason (because I wasn’t paying attention, most likely), at one point when I pulled myself up, the end of the rope stabbed me in my left eye.
It was pretty painful when it first happened; I stood at that place on the wall for a minute or so while I waited for the pain to subside. I did continue climbing after it happened, but the vision in that eye was blurry for the rest of the night. (It was a little better by the next day and seems to be completely back to normal at this point.)
As for my body feeling sore afterward, I did notice some soreness in my upper back, around the shoulder blades. The other place was my forearms. I especially noticed it when squeezing out a dish sponge the next day — I had to use both hands to get a good grip.
I don’t think rock climbing is something I’ll do very often, but I wouldn’t mind going again. I’ll just make sure to keep the end of the rope out of my eye next time.
(Note: I went climbing at SportRock in Alexandria, Va. It cost about $20, plus a few dollars more for renting the harness and shoes, so the total for one person came to $24.50. Since Tripp was there to belay and not climb, he didn’t have to pay anything.)