Your First Visit to an Indoor Climbing Wall

Go vertical this week! Here’s what to expect when you visit a climbing gym. First, no one expects you to be an expert when you walk through the door. However, like going to a fitness center for the time, it can be a little intimidating to walk into a climbing gym filled with regulars who seem to have it all figured out. To start with, the staff should greet you and explain how their facility works. They will ask you to fill out a health and waiver form. Most gyms rent climbing shoes and harnesses so you don’t even need to own any equipment to get started. Specialized climbing give you much better feel of the holds and have sticky rubber for better grip.

2014 Maine Bound BoulderBash

Scene from recent bouldering competition held at the Maine Bound Climbing Center at UMaine.

Bouldering terrain is available in virtually all gyms. Bouldering means climbing close to the ground over padded floors and mats. Climbers should spot each other while bouldering and the climbers usually keep their feet within a few feet of the ground so no harm results if you fall off as floors are usually well padded. Often climbers use gymnastic chalk on their hands to improve grip. Most walls have pre-established bouldering routes that are marked with colored tape. A route is marked with the same colored tape and the difficulty is commonly written on the tape. These can range from easy to hard but the most important thing is for you to have fun so climb using whatever holds you want and ignore the pre-established routes for now.

VCU CWI Course

Top roping during a PCIA climbing wall instructor training course in VA run by Acadia Mt. Guides.

Most gyms offer roped climbing as well. Climbing with a rope requires a partner to secure the rope while you climb (belaying) so that if you slip you will just be hanging in your harness and not crash to the floor. This is known as top roping because there is always a rope above (atop) you (see pic). The beauty of being belayed on a top rope is that most of the risk is eliminated which allows you to really try things you are not sure if you can do. In some climbing gyms, staff will actually belay for you and tie you in so all you have to do is climb. Some gyms even have mechanized belay systems thus eliminating the need for a partner. However, most likely you will want to become more self sufficient in the gym by enrolling in a basic lesson.

Such a lesson will cover how to fit and wear a climbing harness, a basic tie in knot like the Figure 8 Follow Through, the fundamentals of belaying to include creating friction using a belay device, maintaining a ready stance, anchoring if needed and key communication signals. You could also request a short lesson on the principles of climbing movement. You can learn a lot from watching a good climber move over the wall. Alternatively you can often hire a local climbing school such as Acadia Mountain Guides to provide a very personalized introduction to gym climbing. The beauty of climbing is that everyone can do it at an individual level. You can push yourself physically as hard as you want. For a family, everyone can participate even if their ages and skills are vastly different. Get vertical!

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