Up A Wall

Rock Climbing 101

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Although I managed to see, experience and, for the most part, get accustomed to a ton of extremely weird stuff during the one academic year I managed to attend college in England, probably the single most impressionable adventure I undertook during my extended tutorial across the pond was learning how to rock climb.

It was late in the unduly inclement throes of late October when I suddenly found myself standing face to face with a brick wall full of bolted resin handholds just inside the back entrance of the Earth Sciences Building at University of Birmingham.

Behind me stood my incorrigibly encouraging mentor, a 21-year-old civil engineering undergraduate named “Maddy” who happened to be serving as the self-appointed “Initiation Officer” for the West Midlands Rock Climbing Club.

“Well,” Maddy said, loathe to detect my ever-intensifying apprehension to make any verifiable semblance of even the faintest upward move over the previous 10 minutes. “It’s all up to you now, mate. Nobody else is going to prove you’re not a punter. Don’t let the fear swallow you up. Be brave. There’s no better time to exceed your own expectations than the present!”

“My god,” I thought, barely able to hear myself think over all his incessant promulgations. “I’ve got to do something just to shut this windbag up.”

And then, just like that, it happened. I lifted my left climbing shoe off the double-sized mattress (a.k.a. “crash pad”) on the floor, edged it onto the nearest, bomber-looking foothold in my visible vicinity and lunged myself bodily upward, both arms fully outstretched.

It felt exhilarating. It felt empowering. It felt absolutely fan-freakin’-tatstic. With that single, precursory movement I’d finally managed to set a viable course toward vanquishing my lifelong fear of heights. 

Only problem was, there didn’t appear to be any sort of grabbable-looking handholds anywhere on the wall above me.

“Just overhead to your right,” Maddy advised, “a juggy knob at two o’clock!”

Barely having a clue as to what exactly he meant, I craned my neck to the general vicinity he seemed to be talking about and found it—a chalk-smeared, fist-sized handhold protruding from the bricks.

Purely on instinct, I reached for it.

Confidence surging, I wedged myself onto another foothold and, thusly braced, kept climbing until finally—about five feet off the floor—crushing waves of dizziness finally overtook me. 

“Shouldn’t I at least be tied into a rope?” I chattered, wincing grimly below at the puny-looking mattress.

“Ha!” Maddy said. “The top of your route is exactly 12 feet off the deck. So technically speaking, you’re bouldering and I’m spotting you.”

“Bouldering?” I said, only marginally satisfied to see that he was, in fact, shadowing right below me. “Call it whatever you like, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s climbing!” 

Whatever he called it, it was right up my alley. From there on in, I’ve been hooked.

Fortunately, in the 20-plus years since I first crawled up a brick wall, the comfort level of indoor rock climbing facilities has advanced considerably. 

Lately, I’ve watched with mounting anticipation as the folks at Bellingham’s Vital Climbing Gym have constructed a fully modernized, 4,900-square-foot, climate-controlled space where climbers of all types and skill levels can build strength and gain confidence regardless of uncooperative weather. I can hardly wait to give it the old college try.  

More Outdoors...
Bike & Build
Pedaling for a purpose

A few days before summer became official, recent Western Washington University graduate Sean Petersmark dipped his bike’s rear tire in the Atlantic Ocean in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

By the time he dips “Simba’s” front tire in the Pacific Ocean at Bellingham’s Marine Park on Thurs.,…

more »
Filthy Fun
The dirty days of summer

When I spent summers on Lummi Island as a kid, getting dirty was part of the equation. Blackberry picking by the side of the road often turned into full-scale food fights that resulted in me, my siblings and other assorted youth being covered toe-to-head with pulpy stains—so much so that…

more »
Marmots and Moraines
A walk beside the Easton Glacier

The weather forecast was at its midsummer best: sunshine, blue skies, warm temperatures. We’d set aside a few days for some much-needed R&R in the mountains. Baker beckoned.

We slid into the Mt. Baker National Recreation Area trailhead parking lot in late morning and slipped on our…

more »
Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Brewers Cruise

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Music at Maritime

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

Garden Dedication

3:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Blues, Brews & BBQ

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Vintner Dinner

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Riverwalk Park

Move to Amend

6:00pm|Mount Vernon

Fiction Writing Group

6:00pm|Village Books,

Elizabeth Park Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

5 Point Film Festival Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

What's Next?

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Summer Concert Series Finale

6:00pm|Seafarers Park

Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

Final Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Wine and Music

7:00pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center


9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market Andrew Subin 5 Point Film Festival Artifacts Wine Bar Swinomish 2016 Northwood Steak and Crab Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1