Climbing To New Heights

Caroline Gilmore

Do you want to try a new activity that re­quires total fitness, focus and finesse? And you could do it year round, regardless of the weather?

Indoor rock climbing may be the answer. Why indoor rock climbing? We don’t have too many local places to go rock climbing outdoors and the outdoor season is typically limited to the cooler, drier months in North Car­o­lina.

Rock climbing is an activity in which participants climb up, down or across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing appeals to those who enjoy being outdoors as well as enthusiasts who prefer climbing indoors on a simulated rock wall.

Traditional outdoor rock climbing has been going on for hundreds of years while the first indoor facility opened in the United States (US) in Seattle in the late 1980s.

According to the 2016 Outdoor Recrea­tion Participation Report (The Outdoor Foundation), approximately 4.7 million people in the United States participated in sport/indoor/boulder climb­ing and an additional 2.6 million people participated in traditional/ice/mountaineering climbing in 2015. With over 600 climbing facilities in the US, indoor climbing has gained popularity. In fact, sport climbing (or lead climb­ing) has been approved for a first-time inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Indoor climbing occurs in buildings on artificial rock structures. This permits for climbing in all types of weather and at all times of the day. Climbers climb indoors to improve their skills and techniques, as well as for general exercise or fun. Indoor climbing gyms typically provide rope setups and ensure that new climbers know safe climbing techniques

There are several different types of climbing. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing un­dertaken without a safety rope and normally limited to very short climbs over a bouldering mat (called a crash pad) so that a fall will not result in injury). Climbing spotters are used to direct the fall of a boulder climber away from hazardous areas. It is typically practiced on large natural boulders or artificial boulders in gyms and outdoor urban areas.

Top rope climbing (or top roping) is a climbing type in which the climber is securely at­tached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. A climbing harness is used to securely attach the climber to the belay rope and the belay rope to the belayer. Sport climbing is a type of rock climbing that relies on permanent climbing anchors and possibly other climbing hardware fixed to the rock for the climber to use for protection.

I did a weekend of top rope climbing at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia in the early 1980s, but hadn’t done any climbing since then. To learn about current day climbing, I signed up for a two-hour Intro to Climbing class at the Triangle Rock Club in Morrisville (TRC-M) along with my friend, Bob Gully of Durham.

After we signed waivers and watched an instructional video on facility rules and safe climbing, we received our rental climbing harness and shoes. The class consisted of climbing instructor Cody Earnhardt and five students. Earnhardt reviewed the parts and functions of climbing harnesses, ropes and carabiners, how to tie several climbing knots including a figure-8-follow-through knot and the proper top rope belaying technique.

We broke into two groups; mine included rising seventh grader, Emily Schmidt of Wake County and fifty-something Gully. Schmidt first tried indoor climbing at a friend’s birthday party at TRC-M and fell in love with it. This was her second time climbing at TRC-M. Gully and I were first-time indoor climb­ers. We took turns climbing and belaying, each able to climb and belay twice. I never felt scared or intimidated while climbing or be­laying. Because belays are set up for slip-proof security, it was possible for someone as small as Schmidt, to successfully belay for Gully and me. We hung out at the facility for a while after class and did some bouldering, but our muscles were somewhat tired after climbing for over two hours.

When I spoke with Schmidt five days later, she had been climbing at TRC-M three times. She commented, “I’d really like to continue it [rock climbing] and plan to do it along as I can.” She likes that climbing is adventurous and requires thinking creatively. Schmidt also likes that climbing is not just about strength and muscle; “it’s more about finding your way to the top”. She would encourage everyone try it and hopes to make it into a family activity with her parents and younger brother. Gully enjoyed the personal “challenge of looking at a wall and getting myself up to the top.” He is impressed by the people who do real world rock climbing and mentioned the climber [Alex Honnold] who was the first person to free solo climb the 3,000-foot El Capitan wall in Yosemite National Park earlier this year.

We liked the first class so much, Gully and I signed up for a one-hour Progressions climb­ing class at TRC-M. This class consisted of the climbing instructor Amanda Sanchez, and four adult students. We learned some basic climbing concepts and movement techniques and about how climbs are graded for difficulty.

We were introduced to bouldering, the different types of holds and spotting safety. Each student was able to attempt several bouldering routes during the class. Since no top ropes are used in bouldering and the TRC-M bouldering wall is 14-feet tall, you could be falling up to 14 feet. Fortunately, the protective mats are very comfortable and it didn’t hurt to fall. I was a little sore after this class, but it felt good. Touring the TRC-M Extension with its 55-foot climbing walls showed us the extent of bouldering and lead climbing possible.

Gully and I bought a two-week membership deal for TRC-M through Groupon and went back to TRC-M for a third visit. Since we weren’t certified belayers, we used auto-belayers which are devices attached near the top of a climbing wall and automatically take up the slack in the top rope so that you can climb even if you don’t have a person to be­lay for you.

We climbed several routes using auto-belayers and did some bouldering. It felt great to get in that type of a total-body workout and I look forward to continuing my climbing experience and education indoors and possibly out.

PHOTO: Emily Schmidt belays for climber Bob Gully as instructor Cody Earnhardt supervises at Triangle Rock Club in Morrisville. Photo by Caroline Gilmore