Climbing for joy

Scattered pieces of colored tape surrounded the tiny handholds jutting from a monolithic wall, indicating a seemingly random path up the obstacle before me. Vertical Ventures, a rock climbing facility, houses a sport that requires strength, agility and coordination — probably not the best idea for my clumsy, weak body, but I gave it my best effort.

Upon entering the non-air-conditioned warehouse-come-gym, I became immediately aware that rock climbing is not as easy as it looks. Most of the male climbers were shirtless, and the ladies were wearing little more. All the sweat-drenched climbers looked tired but pleased.

This being my first time and having gotten no direction from the guys behind the counter, Assistant News Editor and part spider monkey Iris Sela was my unofficial instructor. She began to stretch and advised me to do the same. I glanced at News Editor Ryan Blackburn to convey my apprehension. Ryan had only one previous night of climbing under his belt, and I thought he would still be slightly unnerved. Instead, he just looked cool, calm and ready to climb.

By the time I turned back around, Iris had free climbed halfway up one of the walls. In the rock climbing world, you can either go “bouldering” or be harnessed in for the big climbs. For my first time, bouldering was plenty.Under the direction of Iris, I started on a small wall near the front.

My ultimate fear before going was that my clumsiness would cause me to fall and break my face. To my relief, the ground around the walls was a pile of semi-squishy pieces of black foam. It would still probably not feel great to fall, but also probably would not break your face.

Iris pointed out a red path for me to follow. Now, I assumed when I saw climbing on television reality shows that one just grabbed for what one could and went. They’ve done it on Blind Date — how hard could it be?

Apparently, climbing takes a bit more skill and agility than is apparent at first glance. The handholds are marked by colored tape to detail the path the climber should follow. I attempted to follow the beginners’ red path and found my feet on the ground in no time. While maintaining balance on one rock, the climber has to simultaneously switch hands and feet to the next boulder on the path, which almost always appear in an unexpected place. My arms and legs never felt long enough.

Second-timer Ryan was actually quite good. His long arms and legs made the switch from boulder to boulder look less painful than my attempts. Yet, I looked at Iris’ small frame and stature and was amazed as she scurried up the wall.

The experience was something new for sure, and it gave me a greater appreciation for those who scale real mountains and caverns. My suggestion for new climbers would be to take a beginner class, and don’t even think of going without someone who at least has a clue about what they’re doing. Also, bring some water, because even sitting in the building could cause dehydration.

Rock climbing seems to be either something you love or something you like. For me, it would be the latter. It was truly unlike anything I’ve done before — one hell of a workout and not a bad way to spend 10 bucks on a Friday night.