I have always been averse to trying new things. New things are scary, intimidating, and take effort to perfect. Despite my typical unwillingness to try something new, last year I decided to pick up rock climbing.
My first experience was at a small climbing wall at a fitness center. I was attached to an auto-belay (scariest first experience ever, I do not advise it) and attempted to scale up the 50 foot wall. I was wearing running shoes, had no chalk on my hands, and knew nothing about technique. Miraculously I managed to make it up about 3/4 of the way until I got way too winded and scared. Being on an auto belay, there was no way to rest, and the feeling of uncertainty about how fast the descent would be if I was to fall gave me chills. I prepared for the fall, and let go. To my initial surprise, the descent was very controlled.
The first time scared me, but it also inspired me. There was something amazing in that adrenaline rush, and I had an intense craving for that feeling of reward after completing a route.
So that’s how it started. From then on, I started going to various climbing gyms with various climbing partners, most of whom were only slightly more experienced than I was, but it was a good start. After a few times, I really started to regret not giving rock climbing a try earlier. For years people told me to try it out, but I was too afraid, too rock-shy.
In a few months, I was completely and utterly in love with climbing. I spent a couple hundred dollars on climbing gear, bought myself a rope in hopes of someday climbing outside and leading. By the middle of last summer, I became proficient at climbing 5.9’s and some 5.10’s on top rope, and 5.7’s and 8’s didn’t seem like a challenge anymore. I was addicted. The next step, the step that would ultimately open up a world of climbing possibilities, was leading. I had to learn.
I love being thrifty and saving money on things I can do myself, so at first I headed to YouTube to learn about lead climbing. Don’t do it. Pay for a lesson. When I took a 4-hour lead class, I learned so much more than I would have ever learned by watching YouTube videos which are often made by amateur climbers who don’t know what they’re talking about. Most importantly, learning to lead with a real instructor will give you the peace of mind that you will definitely want when you start.
After learning to lead, I was still very nervous about it and didn’t feel like I could even pass the “lead check” at most gyms. I needed practice. Throughout the summer, my girlfriend and I headed out to Rumney a few times to try some outdoor climbing, since no lead check was needed there. I also don’t advise this. Get comfortable leading indoors. When you’re climbing outside, you not only have the same fears that you might have indoors, like falling or not making the clip, but you also have to deal with finding the route, clipping the draw, and you will constantly think about how badly you might hit something if you fall. I can’t stress enough how much I’d advise anyone new to leading to learn indoors.
A year and a half later, I feel fairly accomplished of how far I came. I can now top rope up to 5.12’s, feel comfortable on 10’s, and I can comfortably lead 5.8’s and 5.9’s. I may have a long way to go before I am comfortably leading 5.10’s and 11’s, butthe most important thing one can do in their first year or two of leading is to get comfortable with falling, clipping, and not having the constant support of the rope.
When I first started climbing, I noticed that many climbers also practiced yoga, and short of just assuming that yoga improves flexibility, I didn’t know what to make of that trend. Now that I’ve also been practicing yoga for a year, I understand just how close the connection between yoga and climbing is.
Ultimately, rock climbing requires strength, flexibility, fearlessness and focus. Yoga, just so happens to develop all of those. For me, the ultimate goal of yoga is to attain unity of mind, body and spirit, to attain control over your mind and bring clarity and calmness into it. Climbing, from experience, is very much like yoga, it grounds you. It’s an ultimate test in focusing on the route at hand, looking past the fears and motivating yourself to complete a route.
In terms of rock climbing, yoga develops three key attributes - balance, strength and focus. Regular asana practice will help you get balanced on tricky moves where your entire body’s weight is held on a less than ideal hold, and will help you maintain breath and focus when your fears are trying to take root.
Climbing and yoga are physical activities that might seem like they have nothing common, yet practicing both is a truly life-changing experience. Both can be practiced separately, but the combination of both brings a perfect balance into my life. Climbing is probably one of the most rewarding sports I have tried, and as someone who has been skiing for 22 years, that means a lot.