Of all the activities I’ve tried for this column, the one to which I’ve most wanted to return is indoor rock climbing. Of course, the difference between wanting to do an activity and actually doing it is often a pretty wide chasm for me, so it was a welcome opportunity when my editor asked me to visit Rock Spot Climbing in Lincoln.
I was glad to get another go at it. My first climb was a great experience, but it was largely centered around learning the basics of belaying (the rope technique used to keep climbers safe) and conquering my fear of heights. The two things that stuck with me, however, were the puzzle-like mental challenge of navigating the trail of holds up the wall and the invigorating sensation pulsing through my entire body afterward, indicating that all my muscle groups had been activated. I wanted more.
Rock Spot provided just what I was craving. A densely clustered collection of walls intended for both top-roping (climbing with ropes) and bouldering (shorter climbs without ropes), the place was abuzz with activity from various youth and adult climbing groups. Everywhere I looked, someone was scaling something. It was especially humbling to watch the youth groups; I knew I’d be stumbling through this while they were zipping up the walls like spider monkeys.
My sherpa, West, introduced me to the auto-belay system, which provides a solo climber with the safety of top-roping without a partner to hold the rope. He also explained the rating system that grades the difficulty of various courses. Each wall features multiple groupings of differently colored hand- and footholds. The goal is to work your way to the top using only one color. The varying sizes, placements, and distances between the holds make some colors more challenging than others, providing something for climbers of all experience and skill levels.
Sticking with the easiest course on several auto-belay walls, I worked my way around the gym. I summited my first wall on the first attempt, giving me a boost of false confidence. I quickly discovered that even among the low-numbered courses, the difficulty levels can vary greatly. My next attempt was on a wall that jutted out about two-thirds of the way up. Four times I attempted to navigate past it and each one resulted in me tumbling back down to the mat.
West urged me not to get discouraged. “The one thing beginners and experienced climbers have in common is that they both fall a lot,” he assured me.
After working my way up – and falling back down – several other courses, I needed a break. Rock climbing really tests your grip strength in a way that most exercises don’t. My hands, wrists, and forearms started to fatigue fairly quickly. That’s when West and his co-worker, Eddie, pointed out what in retrospect should have been obvious: I should have been letting my legs do most of the work.
With that in mind, I clipped into the next wall and focused on using my legs. I realized that I had been almost exclusively looking up during each climb as my hands fumbled for the next-highest hold to grab; by looking down more and letting my legs climb higher before reaching up for the next handhold, I had a lot more success.
After spending most of the session falling, I was suddenly climbing, and quickly reached the top of the wall. I triumphantly lowered myself back to the base with a sense of accomplishment and newfound understanding of the sport. Unfortunately, my feeling of victory was abruptly cut short when I noticed the sign reading, “Kid-friendly climb.”
Rock Spot Climbing Lincoln