A Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Climbing

Disclaimer: I am not a professional climber or a professional instructor. However, I taught introductory rock climbing classes for a year and a half and have six years of climbing experience.

 

Have you ever been on a hike and glanced up to find someone scaling the cliffs surrounding you? If you’re anything like me seven years ago, you probably thought, “Those people are crazy!” And you’re not too far off. Climber’s are a breed I have come to know and love through their eccentricities, boldness, and passion.

If you’re crazy too, your next thought might have been, “I kind of want to try that…”

You’re not alone! I would guess that the majority of people who started climbing had that exact thought before they dove head in to the sport. In the word’s of Alice in Wonderland, “We’re all mad here.”

So how do you go from dirt to granite? Fortunately climbing access has been made infinitely easier in the last few years with the rise and expansion of climbing gyms across America and the world. Rock and Ice has an indoor climbing gym directory. You just plug in your state and go from there.

Once you find the gym closest to you, I suggest you wrangle in one of your closest, or most curious friends, and ask them to tag along. While climbing is unique and wonderful in that you can boulder on your own, I’m under the school of thought that everything is better with friends.

Before you set out to the world of indoor plastic, take a quick look on Groupon to see if the gym you’re interested in is peddling offers on climbing sessions or classes. The gym in Spokane where I began climbing, Wild Walls, regularly offered discounted multi-day passes through Groupon.

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Okay. So you’ve got your friend, you’ve looked for some sweet deals, and you’re in the car feeling stoked. Once you rock up to the front desk, the staff will ask you to sign a waiver, and if you need to rent gear.

There are three types of climbing you can do in a gym: bouldering, top-roping, or lead climbing. Most people progress through each discipline in that order.

Bouldering is the best route for beginners. In the gym, you only need a pair of shoes to start. It’s a great introduction to the muscle groups, style, and overall feel of working your way up foreign plastic holds. And with most boulder walls topping out around 15 feet, it’s easy to bail if the height makes you dizzy.

Top-roping and lead climbing require more technical skills like how to belay. If a climbing gym has ropes and walls that are 30+ feet high, they probably offer belay classes. Typically these classes last anywhere from 1-2 hours and you learn the basics of rope management. If you decide climbing is something you’d like to stick with, I definitely recommend learning how to belay and testing your endurance on longer routes.

Lead-climbing requires more in-depth knowledge and skills, and requires more detail than this intro post offers.

Once you’ve signed the waiver, and rented the shoes, the next logical step is to climb!

Here are a few techniques that helped me when I learned to climb, and helped a lot of my students when they were learning.

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Focus on your toes

Remember that Spongebob episode where he stuck his big toe out of his shoe to depress the gas pedal? I like to think about that. One of the most common ways to begin climbing is to place the middle of your foot on the foot hold. I highly, highly, highly, recommend NOT doing this. Think about how we walk. Think about how we climb ladders. We walk with our toes forward, not the middle of our feet! Climbing is no different. Try to get as much surface area near the front of your shoes on the hold as possible.

Use your legs

Would you rather do 100 squats or 100 pull-ups? Down the road of climbing and training, there is a time and place for using only your arms, but now’s not the time! Our legs are our powerhouses and carry our entire body weight every day. Our arms? Not so much. Try to do a handstand push-up and you’ll see. Think about how you can use your legs to your advantage. Sometimes moving your foot an inch higher is the difference in being able to grab the next hold, or peeling off the route.

Don’t get crazy

Oftentimes in the gym I see people working on these really hard problems and routes and they make it look so easy. So easy in fact, that it tricks me into believing that I too can climb that hard. I jump on, all eager and full of belief, only to get shut down on the third move. It’s good to push yourself in climbing, otherwise your progression and strength will move at a snails pace (which is okay too, if that’s what you’re after). But going from a V0 climber to a V6 climber won’t happen overnight. It takes time and dedication, but trust me. It more than pays off.

Climbing can be rewarding, fun, and a great way to be part of a like-minded community. If you’ve been on the fence, or itching to try, I say go for it. All you have to lose is space in your closet where your future gear will have to go.

A beginner's guide to

 

Questions? Let me know in the comments below!

Sustainability and Trail Work

A couple weeks ago, after the devastating news of what our new president has planned for our environment, I decided to take action. The SLCA (Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance), along with the Access Fund and the Forest Service, are developing the largest trail network on Forest Service land. Pretty cool, right? It’s called The Grit Mill Project and you can check it out here.

Except, at first, I didn’t think it was cool. My knee-jerk reaction to trail work was negative because I viewed it as:

  • A disturbance to the natural environment
  • A money-suck, especially in labor
  • Making approaches unnecessarily long
  • Less natural
  • Making access easier (and could bring in graffiti artists *anger, anger, anger*)
  • And, of course, it pissed off die hard climbers who want to go back to the 1960’s when LITERALLY NOBODY ELSE was out climbing. (I feel you.)

But, I wanted to volunteer with an open mind, so I strapped on my work boots and hit the trail.

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I hadn’t known much about the Access Fund. I’d heard their slogan to “Protect America’s Climbing,” but I didn’t know how they achieved that. What does sustainable trail work look like and how are they advocates?

They are advocates by supporting local initiatives through grants and loans. They use their platform to rally signatures for petitions. They organize adopt-a-crag events and help other passionate, local climbers do the same. They spend their workdays literally protecting America’s climbing from getting snagged up in public and private land swaps and sales. On top of all that, they also create sustainable ways to access the crags we love so dearly.

I’m going to take it back to high school and throw down the actual definition of sustainable:

Sustainable: (adjective) capable of being supported or upheld, as by having its weight borne from below.

Trail work employs natural elements to create a trail that can withstand the weight we stress on it every day. Through trail building, volunteers help make crush that fills in gaps between rocks to form stairs and solid retaining walls. They widen already existing trails or clear the way for new ones. They remove root systems that would eventually impact the trail. It’s a process of reinforcement that maintains the trails for years.

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The trails that snake their way up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (as well as hundreds of other climbing areas) don’t have the capacity to support themselves with the amount of force we put on them. Think about it! A rope alone weighs about 10 pounds, add to that draws, food, water, and god-forbid a trad rack, PLUS your body weight—we’re easily packing up hundreds of thousands of pounds on these little deer trails. No wonder the Access Fund and other sustainability groups are worried about erosion. With the amount of weight we’re pushing down on the soil I’m surprised we haven’t destroyed the trails and mountainsides sooner.

I learned that I am undereducated about sustainability and the environment. I am, however, excited to learn more and become a better advocate.

As a concessionary note—trail work shouldn’t (and I don’t think it will) become necessary in more remote, alpine environments. We all want those places to remain wild. But, if I’m going to my local crag, and I know there are going to be a bunch of people with their dogs and their beer and their boomboxes, then I want to know, that as the sport grows, we’re doing our best to protect the places we love.