This is where I grew up. Do you see the rocks?
Nope? Me either.
I lived the first 18 years of my life at 299 feet above sea level. To put that in perspective, the average elevation in the US is 1,443 feet.
My wife is convinced that my personality was shaped by the landscape; flat and utterly boring. Good thing I got over that.
We did have trees, so there’s that, and I climbed them every chance I had. The view from the top of the water tower was amazing. You could see for ever.
But no rocks.
My first encounter with anything even close to rock climbing was in college. A group of guys came into the dorm covered in mud. They had gone spelunking, which is rock climbing in reverse.
“Sounds interesting,” I thought and then went back to studying.
Today, this is my version of climbing trees;
But still no rocks.
I really had no concept of what I was missing with rock climbing until I realized it’s the only thing standing between me and Mt. Midoriyama.
My kids are huge fans of American Ninja Warrior and it seems like 80% of the contestants are avid rock climbers. As we’ve watched the contestants perform, I’ve become more and more impressed with the skill and agility they possess. Not to mention how much fun they seem to be having.
So in honor of those who live in a world of where rocks grow large enough to climb, I decided to reach out to some avid rock climbers and find out what I’ve been missing.
Say hello to Annalisa, the author of the Climbing Together and Other Fun Adventures blog. Her blog spotlights the joys of climbing as a social activity, which is exactly what I wanted to talk about. So I reached out to her and she graciously agreed to fill me in on what it’s all about.
1. Some brief background; how long have you been involved in rock climbing/mountain climbing? What got you started? When did you really start to feel passionate about it?
1. I have been rock climbing for about 4 years. When I was a kid I always climbed everything, trees, boulders, sheds, whatever. I really got into rock climbing in its sport form (having all the gear, climbing up actual routes, and understanding what climbing is) in college. A couple friends invited me to try a climbing gym with them and I was willing to try something new and at that moment, more importantly, make some solid friendships.
I went with them and I loved it. The climbing was fun, but we also had a girl’s night climbing every week and it was very social. I liked that it could push my limits and that it was helping me overcome some of my fears and feel more confident. It was also fun. When I started, I didn’t know that I was passionate about climbing because so much of my joy from it was being with friends and having a break from school work. When I graduated though. I started to really miss climbing. I thought about it often and would try to invite someone who went to my school, but also really lived close to me at home to to go. It didn’t work out all that well.
A couple years later, I found meetup.com. I organized a rock climbing group to have partners, and then I started going a lot. I think that time was when I was really passionate. I was going a few times a week, if not almost everyday. It gave me great friends, it was how I met my boyfriend, it helped me relax and it was fun. I knew I really loved it because I’d be sad when I couldn’t go and I had the courage to go by myself when no one would go with me. I started training for it and reading about it and really becoming fully involved with the blog, facebook page, etc.
2. Your blog is built around a meetup group. Describe the rock climbing community for me. How important is the social aspect of what you do?
The interesting thing about climbing is that it is both very social and very antisocial at the same time. When you are on the climb, it is totally in your mind and all about you. Some people are competitive in climbing (usually they are competitive people in general) but for the most part it is very self competitive. People want to do the best they can be and progress.
It doesn’t really matter what other people are doing. It is very personally in how you grow, develop, and enjoy the sport. Having said that, there are many benefits to having other people there. If you are sport climbing or trad climbing (those both involve ropes but sport climbing has already placed bolts to clip into and trad climbing you place all your own protective gear) you really need a belay partner. You will have to be social with at least one person. If you are solo climbing (which is cliff climbing without any ropes) or bouldering (smaller climbs 10-20ft usually with pads to fall on instead of ropes and harnesses) you don’t need someone else. However, lots of boulder climbers are social because they like hearing how other people did it. What holds did they use, what moves did they do, what do they know about the climb. These things help them climb better.
You can climb by yourself and I know many people that do. They like being out in the woods alone with the rock and crash pad. It can also be very social where people invite everyone they know. The community is relatively small. I’ve met a lot of professional climbers and they are very approachable and humble. Many professionals will write back to my messages and be willing to hang out if you want to climb with them. It sometimes feels like all climbers know each other once you’ve been doing it for a while. When you first start out it seems like a much larger community because you don’t know anyone and there are a lot of people that climb recreationally but not all the time. Some people do it to work out, have fun with kids, etc.
3. What are some of your favorite highlights through the years? What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done while climbing?
All the dumb things I’ve done climbing are pretty typical. I was sport climbing once in a cave. I was scared of falling so I tried to clip the next clip which was way above my head. I pulled out lots of slack to make it but instead of clipping, I fell and since there was so much slack in the rope, I nearly hit the ground. Now when I climb, I try really hard to just keep climbing when scared knowing the fall is safer cause there is less slack out.
We all make stupid mistakes and learn from them. Some have harsher consequences than others. A lot of mistakes can be ego driven. You think you’re strong and this climb is easy so you don’t pay as much attention, etc. Some are honest mistakes, and some just can’t be helped.
Many of my climbing highlights have to do with places I’ve traveled to. I loved climbing in Bishop, CA. I’m from CT so that is a pretty far trip for me. It was beautiful out there. I absolutely fell in love with the town and the climbs. I liked going to the Red River Gorge. We stayed in an amazing log cabin with a fire place and hot tub, had some of the best pizza ever at Miguels, and just enjoyed all the cool nature things like seeing tons of deer that practically walk right up to you. I saw some of the most unbelievable sunsets and moons and stars I’ve ever seen.
Some of my best moments have been just talking with friends over campfires and hanging out. Some of it has been accomplishments. I won second place in a climbing competition and got a free rope, free jacket, free shoes, and free chalk bag. I felt like a pro. I also felt really excited climbing my first V5 because it was the hardest grade I had climbed. There are lots of memorable moments.
4. If I decided I wanted to get involved in rock climbing today, what do I need to know? How hard would it be to just jump in at age 36?
It is fine to climb at any age. People always think its best to start as a kid because they are fearless and pick up things fast, but any age is fine. There are some hard climbers who are older. Some people climbing when they are 80 or 90. It’s fine.
The best place to start is usually a gym because you can rent all the gear. Some places do outdoor guiding which is often more expensive than a day at the gym but it gets you outside with all the gear you need and a professional to help teach you. Going outside on your own is hard unless you have experienced friends. You do need equipment and to know what you are doing. Some people are really intense about only climbing outside, but I think a gym is a good starting place. It is important to know you will progress and get better.
The first time is just about having fun and seeing if it is something you want to invest in buying the gear for and learning more about. You can certainly just keep going to a gym and renting without every buying a single thing. Having fun is important. Everyone starts somewhere and the more time and practice you put in, the better you get. With meetup groups, gyms having partner boards or programs, and belay classes, you met a lot of people. So I don’t think it is hard to get started. You take a class, meet some fellow beginners, meet experienced people through out the gym and build your community. Most climbers are easy going and willing to help someone learn.
5. There isn’t a lot of natural terrain to work with where I live. What options do I have for getting involved?
Some people have cliffs in their back yard some people have to drive three hours to get to one. There are gyms everywhere though, which is helpful. They help you learn, have an afterwork place to go, and meet other climbers. As you know more and get better you can always plan climbing trips. Gyms are a good option for places without much natural rock though.
6. One of my concerns with new hobbies is start up costs. If I wanted to start climbing, how much am I going to spend on equipment just to make sure I don’t kill myself?
Climbing can be expensive. To some degree it is how much you are willing to spend, but to some degree it is pricey. For my local gym a day pass is $17, equipment rental adds on about $10 more and the belay classes are about $30 (they are usually one time though). Many gyms have memberships for $50-$70 a month. To buy your own gear you are looking at shoes from about $70-$170, ropes from $100-$300, harnesses about $50-$100, chalk bags like $10-$30. You don’t need them all right away if you can rent though. Crash pads are a couple hundred usually too, but some you can rent for a day for like $15. It can get expensive but you can pay over time. I got my own shoes, then chalk bag, then harness, etc over like a couple months.
Another important thing is that a lot of people think if they have a fear of heights they can’t climb. I actually have a really bad fear of heights, and love climbing. You just need to get comfortable falling at gradual heights, right off the ground, then a little higher up. For many people since they are facing a wall they don’t really notice. The gear also keeps you really safe and secure.
Helmets aren’t required but they are a good idea and one I’d probably recommend.
So if you are looking for a new adventure, or just a great reason to get together with some friends, go climb something. I still haven’t found any rocks near my place, but I’m taking a hard look at some of those trees.