Have You Ever Been Rock Climbing?

As I mentally prepared to take a rock-climbing lesson today, I figured that it would be a tough workout in which I would overestimate my climbing abilities. After all, I’m the type of guy who watches American Ninja Warrior and thinks I could do just as well as those athletes just because I can do a few pull-ups.

Never did I consider that my greatest weakness when it comes to rock climbing would be that I’m really bad at tying knots.

You read that correctly. The first hour of the lesson I took with a friend at Upper Limits Rock-Climbing Gym was mostly spent typing knots. I was comically terrible at it. The instructor would say something like, “Form a rabbit ear, wrap the free end around your hand, and then thread the needle,” producing a perfect knot. I would agonize over it for a few minutes and ultimately produce an even longer, straighter, unknotted rope than what I started with.

I finally got the hang of it enough to pass orientation, and then the climbing began. It was even more difficult than I thought, mostly because I had a really hard time trusting the rope. You have to trust the rope. Without that trust, I found myself clinging to the wall with every ounces of strength in my fingers and legs. It was a great workout, though!

I also tried a few obstacles I’ve seen on American Ninja Warrior, including hanging from a softball-sized ball with one hand and something akin to a salmon ladder. Here’s the thing: The ANW athletes make you forget how strong gravity is by the way they effortlessly hang 20 feet above the ground. But gravity is powerful! Especially when your entire body weight is suspended from one arm. I didn’t think it would be that different than two arms, but it is.

Overall, it was a humbling, physically satisfying experience. Have you ever been to a rock-climbing gym? What was harder/easier than you expected? Please say knots.


7 Responses to “Have You Ever Been Rock Climbing?”

  1. Kyle says:

    I love rock climbing! Although I haven’t done much all winter, my partner and I go through pretty avid climbing phases. In the past I’ve even traveled just to climb on certain rocks outdoors, although I consider myself to be a climber of middling ability at best.

    It’s true that you do need to learn to trust the rope! I’m actually afraid of heights, but I’ve conditioned myself to put that fear away when I’m tied in when climbing.

    Also, if you go again, see if any of the staff can tie the figure-8 knot one handed. Years spent waiting for my climbing buddies to get their gear on allowed me to teach myself to do it, but it’s still super hard!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I’m impressed that you’re able to put your fear away when climbing! I think part of it for me is that I didn’t completely trust myself when I was the anchor for someone else. I’m sure I could get over that with practice.

      A one-handed figure-8 knot?! Wow.

  2. Stephen says:

    Did it for about a year, then got a foot injury caused by slipping on the stairs on the entrance to the building my flat was in that took long enough to recover from that I got out of routine of going down.

    The hardest part initially was probably the first couple of times you go down the wall, where you have to learn to not listen to the part of your brain screaming at you not to go backwards down it. Going forward it was probably ‘practicing falling when transitioning from top-roping to lead-climbing.’ “OK, you can stop belaying now. keep climbing a bit higher. Great, you’re high enough. You can let go of the wall now.” – Beyond that, when you’re trusting the rope there’s a huge psychological difference between ‘I can feel the rope such that I know that while slack enough to give me freedom of movement it’s right there and I’ll only slip down a couple of inches if I fall’ and your body not being able to feel the rope, so it’s an intellectual ‘I know I hooked it on a foot or two ago’ combined with the knowledge ‘if I fall, I’ll go twice that distance down and it will catch me’. Which… Yeah, your brain might be trusting the rope at that point, but your body isn’t so much.

    That scene in The Dark Night Rises where the rope preventing Bruce from falling is stopping him from succeeding because ? Complete bs, it’s much easier to do any given climb with the rope, because the body is more free to take the risks that might be needed to complete the climb, than it is to do it without, where the body doesn’t feel safe doing so even if the brain knows that the rope is right there, tied correctly, and you’re only going to drop a couple of feet or so. And without a rope entirely so the brain isn’t able to calm the body? That’s going to be harder still.

    If your issue is trusting the rope, try bouldering, which is practically the sprinting to rock climbing’s long distance running in terms of energy – Rock climbing you’ll be fairly rested throughout because everything’s slow and steady, though you’re muscles will feel it in the morning in a way I don’t recall happening when I was doing weights. Bouldering half way through an hour session you’ll be sat on the floor, drinking water, possibly chatting if someone else has needed a break at the same time, getting your breath and general energy back for a second half… And your muscles will still feel it in the morning.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks for sharing, Stephen! I can definitely relate to what you described about what my brain was urgently trying to tell me. 🙂

      This gym had bouldering sections–you can’t see it in the photo (which I took when I arrived), but by the time we left, there were a ton of people hanging out and bouldering.

  3. Jay says:

    Rock climbing is the ideal sport for a lot of gamers because it directly involves a lot of problem solving and lets you participate at your own pace. It’s less competitive and that gives reassurance to folks nervous about their physical abilities.

  4. Chris says:

    I completely agree with Jay. As a gamer bouldering is great for exercise which I would not get enough of otherwise. Half of the problem is figuring your way up. Some climbs can be so much easier if just attempted in a different way. If you look at some of the more experienced climbers at your wall they make things look effortless. This is not necessarily down to fitness, it’s things like knowing when to shift you weight etc…
    I prefer bouldering as Stephen says it’s a bit more intensive.
    As for knots the whole up and over and through the rabbit hole got me at first but once you get it you won’t forget.

  5. […] first attempt was a few years ago, a 2-hour class that mostly focused on climbing safety and knots. My memories of it aren’t great, as I found that I’m not particularly good at […]

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