Welcome back RVA Strong fans!! With the weather turning colder, this month's adventure takes us to new heights as I have been challenged to take a lesson in Rock Climbing – a true challenge for me as I am afraid of heights. Kevin Tobin, owner of Peak Experiences, agreed to teach me the ropes both literally and figuratively!
Climbing entails some specialized equipment including climbing shoes which are rubber soled and fit like a second skin. Although these are not comfortable for walking they increase your grip and awareness of your foot positioning while climbing. One wears a pelvic safety harness that creates a figure "8" around your waist, hips, and thighs thus supporting you and linking you via the rope to the climbing rock. The rope (if you are not bouldering) is crucial as it connects you to your climbing partner. Attached to the harness is a chalk bag used to keep your hands dry (trust me, this is needed). Also, there is the all important belay which allows your partner on the ground to control the slack in your line and help lower you to the ground (especially in the event you should lose your grip and fall off the rock!).
There are 3 types of climbing offered at Peak Experience: Top Rope Climbing, Lead Climbing and Bouldering. With Top Rope Climbing both the climber and belayer (safety person managing the rope from the ground) are wearing harnesses. The belayer manages the rope taking up slack as the climber ascends the wall, ready to apply the brake if needed and helps with lowering the climber back to the floor. Lead Climbing entails the climber clipping their rope into quickdraws located on the rock face as they ascend the wall. The remainder of the rope is on the ground but there is a belayer ready to assist if needed. Bouldering, which is the fastest growing segment of rock climbing, involves short but intense climbs on a short wall without the use of harnesses or ropes. There is a padded landing surface and spotters which tells me that this a more advanced technique! Thankfully, Kevin decided to save this lesson for another time.
Taking my fear of heights into consideration, Kevin was kind enough to start me on the "party" or beginner wall. Climbs are ranked based on difficulty of the face of the rock and the type of foot/hand holds. I quickly discovered that if you rely on using your arms to pull your body upwards you will fatigue quickly. As Kevin pointed out, by using your legs to push your weight upwards and using extended arms you can conserve energy and thus climb to great heights! I was soon to find out how important this was when we switched to a "medium" height wall.
As we progressed, Kevin instructed me on how to tie the proper rope knot called a "figure- eight follow through with a Yosemite" for the belay and we reviewed the appropriate pre-climb commands: "Belay!", "Belay on!", "Climbing!", "Climb on!"
Next, we moved to a more difficult climb with a ranking of 5.7 (not sure what that exactly means but it sounded impressive). With Kevin's help and patience I was able to complete the climb and what an exhilarating experience! By the time I made it back to the ground, I was breathing hard and my arms and legs definitely knew they had done some work!
Some basic exercises to help you get the most out of your rock climbing experience include: squats and side lunges. The latter is important as most the time your legs are in a straddled position with your instep against the rock face. Upper body strengthening including pull-ups, lat-pulls, rows, and grip strengthening exercises will also be helpful when you have to use more physical strength rather than technique to execute a particular move.
Various packages of lessons are offered at Peak Experience. Lessons start at $20 and for $30 a "Learn the Ropes" course is offered that includes instruction on how to tie the rope knot, put on the harness, belay, as well as climbing. As you become proficient there is also an opportunity to take climbing to outside venues such as the Manchester Wall located here in Richmond along the James River.
As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "…the only thing to fear is fear itself…". By facing my fear of heights, not only was it a great workout it also provided me with a great sense of accomplishment! My recommendation: Take your fitness program to new heights and go Climbing! Rock Climbing is RVA Strong!