This year you can make rock climbing your “new thing” with the help of just a few things before you jump right in.
The Austin rock climbing community is growing rapidly as to no surprise when Austinites are lucky enough to have multiple rock gyms and a variety of outdoor locations to choose from. A sport previously popular with counter-culture young generations (a culture that fits in well with Austin’s vibe), rock climbing has become mainstream with people of all different ages joining in on the fun. Now with climbing spots such as the Crux Climbing Center, the Austin Bouldering Project, as well as the South and North Austin Rock Gyms, Austin climbers aren’t struggling to find great practicing space.
Rock climbing has seen a large boom in the past few decades according to University of Texas graduate, Corey James McZeal. Much of this surge in population can be accredited to the increase in indoor climbing gyms in the United States since the late 1980s. Indoor gyms typically present two styles of climbing; bouldering and sport. In bouldering, a climber is unroped and ascents routes very close to the ground, while sports climbing consists of taller routes with the climber using preattached bolts on the wall and hooked into ropes for protection from falls. When visiting a gym you will commonly see different difficulty increments of each route based on the type of climbing. Bouldering routes are measured in difficulty on a scale of V0 to V11 and up where the V0 or VB (beginner) rating is the easiest all the way to V11 or higher as the most challenging. While, when you are sport climbing at rock gyms or outdoors, climbers will refer to routes from anywhere to a 5.6 to a 5.15 and higher rating where 5.6 is on the beginner side.
As much as the type of rock climbing levels vary, opinions of the sport do too. For a long time, the general public perception of rock climbing deemed it a lifestyle or ‘extreme’ sport much like surfing, skateboarding, and windsurfing. Often these sports were considered just for the “adrenaline junkies” who were constantly searching for their next challenge. However, while climbing has its dangers like any sport, many now associate the term lifestyle sport with another meaning entirely. When I was first introduced to climbing, it became apparent to me that it meant more to the community than just a hobby or pastime. Once involved, rock climbers lived and breathed the sport. For them, rock climbing was part of their lifestyle. Climbers usually identify themselves as climbers first before anything else and even center their schedules around their dedicated practice hours. So I found myself thinking, “Why do so many people find the time to give to this sport? What makes it so unique?”
After several months of testing climbing out for myself, it didn’t take long for me to find out. In my experience, rock climbing brought out a stronger, more resilient side of me I never knew I had. When rock climbing you work out not only your muscles but important parts of your brain. Your logic is tested and strengthened as much as your body when up in the air as you move against human tendencies to find the path of the least resistance. This is maybe what interests me most about the climbing community. Although generations have consistently built better technology year after year with the intention to make life easier and to do less work, climbers strive to choose the hardest path and conquer it because of their desire to overcome. Why? Because for them, it’s not just getting there, it’s how you get there.
If your passion for adventure and the feeling of hard-earned success is not your drive, let your health be the reason you try rock climbing this year. Climbing is a full body workout that might not be the ideal sport for healthy weight loss, but it still tones muscles as it works both your upper and lower body. You will strengthen muscles that are not typically utilized in typical youth sports such as soccer, volleyball, or even football. During any rock climb, you have engaged muscles in your back and your arms from pulling yourself up and you’ll be forced to work out your core, quads, and calves to stabilize your balance while in the air.
Don’t let your busy schedule be the reason you say no to a new sport. Local gyms have long hours during the week and on the weekend. Crux Climbing Gym is located near Ann Richards and you can purchase a day pass with included gear for as low as $22. If you live north of the city, check out the Austin Bouldering Project where a day of climbing along with your gear rental costs only $14. Later on, if you decide to take your climbing to the next step, Austin is the perfect place to venture the outdoors. With great (free!) routes only two miles from downtown in the Barton Creek Greenbelt and organizations like Rock-About Texas which provides “beginner to pro” courses year round for individuals and groups you can try climbing the natural rock. Rock-About Texas even leads excursions to our friends in Fredericksburg over at Enchanted Rock and teaches the fundamentals of rope work and climbing technique.
So, what are you waiting for? Whether you’ve decided to become the new Margot Hayes* or are just considering trying it out for a day with some friends, rock climbing is something that we can all take interest in. I hope to see you there.
*first woman to ascend a 5.15a (difficulty level of rock climb) known as La Rambla in Sirana, Spain, in February of 2017