Thursday, April 24, 2008

Maggie's Rock Climbing Adventure

A few years ago my company sponsored a team building day at a climbing gym in Cincinnati that was one of the most fun work events I can remember. I loved the challenge of scaling various walls and tall things - and even though the heights were scary, I remembered leaving with a real sense of accomplishment and a desire to try it again.

So I've always vowed to try rock climbing again, but I never got around to it when we lived in the Bay Area. Recently I finally did some research on climbing gyms here in London, and a few weekends ago I took a bus ride across east London to take a beginners' course at Mile End Climbing Wall.

My class consisted of 7 women and 1 (brave) man, and they started us climbing horizontally on a 'Traverse Wall' with lots of big holds that were pretty easy to grip. This was just to get us used to using the grips and comfortable with being off the ground - we weren't very far up. Here's a stock picture from the website - unfortunately I couldn't find a way to surreptitiously use my camera during this part of the class:

This was pretty fun and not too hard. I can see why they start you on this wall, as it helps build your confidence for the real climbing afterwards.

For the next hour we learned how to belay. I was intimidated at first because of my 5'2" size... could I really support an adult's body weight with just a rope? Luckily the mechanics of it all definitely works, and the instructors were very good because they taught us the right technique and gave us lots of coaching. And once I got the hang of it, it wasn't so scary. (Plus we were in a padded room the whole time - that definitely helped!)

The rest of the class was spent taking turns climbing vertical walls, and this is when it really got fun. I was the the third person to try this vertical wall below:

Due to my small size, I didn't have trouble getting right onto wall to start climbing. My instructors cheered when I began because apparently starting a climb is often tricky for beginners, so I had a moment of feeling cool. That moment quickly evaporated as my hands started sweating and I realized I had to make my next move. So I just kept looking at the wall and planning where I would step and reach next. It's a lot of coordination - you have to figure out where to put your both your hands and both of your feet all at the same time. The grips are color-coded for level of difficulty, but I just ignored that and went for whatever was in reach.

Things were going well until I was about halfway up the wall, and they suddenly put someone next to me who was also climbing to the top. We were very close to each other, so at one point I had to stop and wait because we needed to use the same grip. It was then that I realized how important it is to keep moving. All of a sudden I was scared and my muscles tensed up - there were a few moments when I felt completely frozen. Now I understand how people can panic and freeze in the middle of a climb.

I realized that the key to rock climbing is to just keep going and to not think too much. It took a lot of strength to start moving again, but I was driven to make it to the top, so I forced myself on. Luckily after I did, the momentum picked up again, and pretty soon I made it all the way up. It was such a feeling of accomplishment! Despite being scary it was exciting - I loved the challenge.

My funny climbing shoes

For the rest of the class we all continued to practice by belaying and scaling walls as much as we wanted. I climbed the same wall one more time and then took a break - that seemed like enough for my first day.

I definitely want to keep rock climbing. I like the way it pushed me to face my fear and keep going, and it was great exercise.

P.S. They have very different walls in France...


Anonymous said...

Ahhh, Such a metaphor for life!

Not Dan Osman said...

Good for you Maggie!! Climbing is super fun + hard.

Next stop: