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When You Like To Watch - Climbing As A Spectator Sport

Few months ago I asked my coach to give me some exercises to improve my grip strength. “I can give you some exercises, I guess”, he shrugged. “Or you can just start climbing once in a while”.

I hesitated. The very first time I have been in the mountains has been few years ago – I joined a mountaineering expedition in the Indian Himalayas. Before that, my climbing experience consisted of taking an elevator to the top of the CN tower.

We did three summits in two weeks, including a 19,000 foot peak, and the most difficult part of the trip was peeing while attached to five other people. Nothing redefines your idea of privacy more.

So, while I had no trouble believing that climbing would be fantastic for grip strength, the activity itself…

First of all, you need a partner. Let me repeat that. You need a partner. To belay and make sure that you don’t die.

I can pretty much stop right there. Needing another person in order to engage in some sort of physical activity is a tough concept for me to wrap my head around. And I am not yet sure how I feel about that.

Because you and your partner cannot climb at the same time, and you really do need to pay attention while your partner is doing his/her thing, you are forced to observe.

Yet another brand new concept – observe others engage in physical activity, rather than engage in physical activity yourself. Fascinating!

So, in the last few months, I have been partnering and observing. Imagine that.

Here are some of my observations:

1. Good climbers resemble yogis in their body type – long, lanky, wiry.

I do reasonably well – thanks to the long arms. I did my first clean 5.9 yesterday, and was happy as a freaking clam. Thank goodness for beginner gainz. Of course, I also have no freaking idea what to do with my legs/feet. So, they just… dangle there for now. Until I figure out that piece, I’ll be the stereotypical “arm” climber – rely on sheer dumb strength, rather than skill. Ha.

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2. I have never seen an activity that seems to fit children of all ages so well.

Climbing + kids seems like a natural combination. It’s perfect. Noted.

3. Climbing is the new golf.

While golf remains a big networking thing for those 50+, indoor climbing is the next big thing for 25-40 year olds. It also encourages communication – given the whole partnered nature of the experience – unlike the more solitary practice of yoga, or “I-can’t-talk-because-I-feel-like-I’m-going-to-die” feeling of CrossFit.

Running can be great with others, but it usually requires finding someone with similar pace, or it ends up being painfully boring for one of you. With climbing, as long as you can belay, you can climb with someone significantly more advanced than you – it’s choose your own adventure kind of sport.

4. Indoor climbing is a subculture of its own.

I belong to enough subcultures to know one when I see one. It has its own language, its own gear, its own shoes (!), and its own hours.

As I make a date with a friend to climb (see? partnering!), we settle on 11.30am. As I walk in, the place is completely empty. The guy at the front looks up at me expectantly – he thinks I am lost.

“Umm, I am here to climb”, I mumble, thrown off by the silence of the facility.

“Oh!”, he blinks in surprise. “We do not open until 12pm”.

“Of course, you are not”, I think to myself in complete amusement. “Why on earth would anyone be open before 12pm?”.

In comparison to 5.30am bootcamp classes to 6am yoga practices to early morning runs and CrossFit classes, the concept of 12pm start is mind blowing.

Oh, and if there is a snack bar at the gym, do not expect to find coconut water and beef jerky. It’s Clif bars and ice cream all the way, baby. Paleo… what?

5. Climbers are not in a hurry.

After ninety minutes of climbing with a partner yesterday, my fingers start to give out, and my stomach starts to rumble. Yet my partner shows no indication of wrapping up any time soon. After two and a half hours, I start glancing at my watch. “Dude”, I think to myself. “I have laundry to fold and stuff”. How do people do this six times a week?

This reminds me of a bro workout with a gym buddy that I subjected myself to once – which lasted two hours, and consisted of walking from one machine to another in an effort to trash the shoulders. It was a shoulder day. Or something. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Of course, the “not-in-a-hurry” approach applies to climbing itself also. I watch in fascination, as yet another climber pauses before the climb, looking up and making movements with his/her hands, as they “read” the route. One pair exchanges their impressions: “I think the crux is right there, in the middle! See what big red hand grip? Look how far away the next one is”.

Fascinating! And here I was, thinking that you figure out the crux (the most difficult portion of the climb) once you climb up the damn thing, and have no idea where to go.

It is a sharp contrast to the “get-in-get-out” vibe that you get at chain gyms and yoga studios. Here, small groups of climbers hang out (!). They sit on the mats, looking up, as one of their friends attempts yet another route or bouldering problem. They laugh. They meander (!).

All in all… this strange activity has been growing on me. Other people included.

Liked this post? Check out the race recap of my first beer mile, and three things I learned from doing Zumba.

Hugs, SOLO


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