"We do CrossFit, can't we just skip the instructional class?"
The answer to this question will always be "no" when you ask someone at a Rock Climbing facility. Three guesses as to how we figured that one out.
A few months ago, the staff at Fitness Cult Chronicles decided to leave our box on a Sunday and try something new. That new something was Rock Climbing, an odd coincidence given the title of this post.
We called our local Rock Climbing facility, The Gravity Vault, and were told that we would need to attend an intro belaying course despite our CrossFit awesomeness. Our other option was to rent out an indoor Sherpa to guide us through the treacherous indoor mountains of northern New Jersey. We opted for having our own seasoned guide given that it was cheaper and less time consuming than having everyone take the belaying course.
An hour after our Sunday WOD we were standing in the lobby of the gravity vault looking at the person who was going to be our guide for the next hour and a half. Oddly enough, she looked less like a Sherpa and more like a 19 year old girl. This, along with fifty kids having a birthday party, clued us in that the experience would be slightly less death defying than Cliffhanger (Rocky climbing mountains for you kids out there).
The principles of two person Rock Climbing are pretty simple. Both partners wear a professional grade harness and are connected with a heavy duty climbing rope. The rope goes from one partner up through a pulley system at the top of the wall and down to the other partner. One person climbs the wall holding on to fake ridges and grooves, while the other partner stays on the ground and continuously pulls slack out of the rope. Pulling slack out of the rope ensures that if the climbing partner falls, they don't fall more than a few inches. Our non Sherpa guide for the day took great efforts to make sure that our harnesses were correctly connected to the climbing rope. Apparently having your harness become disconnected from the rope while you are falling is a very bad event - pretty much the same as crossing the streams in Ghostbusters.
The last component of Rock Climbing is coming down the wall. Initially I thought that you just climbed down the same way that you went up. No no - you basically just let go of the wall, lean back and let your belaying partner on the ground slowly lower you down. It's a much less physically taxing experience than the climb up the wall, but definitely more of a mind f**k because the only thing separating you from a thirty foot fall is a rope and a knot tied by a fake Sherpa.
Twenty bucks a person got us access to the climbing walls for a solid hour and a half. There were six people in the group so we were each able to scale various sections of the climbing wall about five times. From a physical perspective, we were all pretty exhausted by the end of the day. The experience wasn't challenging at all from a cardiovascular perspective, but really taxed some of the muscles in the forearms, shoulders and upper back. The post workout fatigue that I experienced the next day was different than what I would normally experience even after a physically taxing CrossFit WOD. The best way to describe it is a soreness that's really deep in the muscle. The day after your first foray into Rock Climbing you'll wake up in bed and go "so that's what Coach DBJ was talking about".
The Rock Climbing community was another interesting aspect of the experience. We encountered several top level Rock Climbers who seemed to spend a good portion of their free time in the facility. These top climbers are definitely built differently than top CrossFit athletes. They are generally tall and packed with very lean muscle. I would also be lying if I said they didn't dress a bit odd. The board shorts and shirtless look of your typical CrossFit junkie was replaced by wild uncut hair, tank tops and dirty Capri type khakis (even for the dudes!). We got the feeling that this was a bit of a counter culture Fitness Cult that tried actively to not look trendy and glamorous when climbing. I thought they were an interesting, impressive and friendly bunch all around.
All in all our entire staff loved Rock Climbing. It was a mental and physical challenge that took us out of our comfort zone and forced us to use muscles and skills that we normally don't train. It also helped illustrate what I love about our group - we aren't afraid to leave the cozy confines of our box and see what other fitness communities are up to.
As an aside, I went back a few weeks later and got my belay certification. The class itself is an hour and a half long and focuses on knot tying, how to belay for a partner from the ground and the importance of not falling thirty feet. I would definitely recommend the gravity vault and the belay class for anyone in North Jersey looking to get into Rock Climbing.
Do you have your own Rock Climbing story? Are you a Rock Climbing expert? Post your experience in the comments and we may just send you a Fitness Cult Chronicles t-shirt (but probably not).