Rock climbing is more than just another outdoor sport and another excuse to accumulate an entire closet worth of gear. It’s a way to form incredible bonds with others, an excuse to travel to beautiful places, and a way to learn more than you ever thought possible about who you are and how you respond to challenges. For me, climbing has been an incredible teacher, even though I’m not always a willing student. It’s a sport every outdoor enthusiast should try and provides benefits every outdoor enthusiast should know about!
Pushing Physical Limits
Whether it’s a day hike in Northeast Pennsylvania, a backpacking trip in the Catskills or a day at my favorite local crag, I love being active and getting outside. My mood and quality of life are generally proportional to how much physical activity I do. Waking up to my body’s gentle reminders of activities from the day before can be the best feeling in the world.
Rock climbing is a full-body workout, but the sport involves so much more than strength. At its best, climbing is a dance; a delicate balance between finesse and physical power. As a beginner, I found back and core muscles I didn’t know I had until the next-day soreness kicked in. I’m still discovering ways to move on the wall with the goal of executing that perfect dance, that perfect combination of balance and strength. One of my favorite things to do is to watch a climber who has truly mastered the dance; it’s beautiful.
Testing Emotional Toughness
Rock climbing brings out the best and the worst in me. It scares me to death, but that fear is what keeps me coming back for more. In climbing, I have to be present. All physical and mental energy I have has to be dedicated to each move I make. If I don’t focus completely, my worst fears come true – I fall. It’s the only sport I’ve found where the consequences of giving into fear are an instant guarantee my fear will materialize. It’s something I have to fight every time I climb.
We all have internal battles we wage, and for me, the battle is overcoming my fear and learning to believe. Many of the mental challenges I have in climbing parallel those I have in life, particularly in the realm of self doubt. I’ve discovered if I can deal with these challenges in one area, dealing with them in the other becomes easier. Climbing forces me to believe and to trust. If I don’t, success on a climb is difficult if not impossible.
Exploring Uncharted Territory
I’ve been backpacking in the Adirondacks for years now, but up until recently, it never occurred to me to examine some of the rock faces I walked by as places to explore. Joshua Tree National Park, a classic rock climbing destination, isn’t a place I would have made it a priority to visit had I not discovered the sport. Climbing opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Finding a Community
Climbing as a sport is built around the concepts of trust and sharing knowledge. Most climbing can’t be done without a partner or two and in some cases without trusting those partners with your life. No new climber gets started without a little help and no seasoned climber can advance without support. When I started getting interested in climbing outdoors after some time in the gym, the first step was to find a willing friend who had equipment. Even for seasoned pros, there has to have been a time when each had to ask questions of someone with more experience. The inherent cooperativeness in the sport seems to foster a bond within the community. Just as anyone who’s ever attended a Tweetup.
Getting Started Rock Climbing
If you haven’t tried rock climbing yet, there’s no better time than now! Here are four options for getting started climbing:
- For most climbers, the ultimate goal is self-sufficient climbing outdoors. There’s no better feeling than going outdoors with your own equipment, setting everything up on your own, and feeling confident in your knowledge! Some climbing gyms offer outdoor instruction which can be great if you’re starting in the spring or summer seasons. The Philadelphia Rock Gyms near where I live, for example, offer several local beginner classes. Outdoor guiding companies can also be a great resource.
- Find a friend who climbs and ask them to take you outdoors or to the gym with them. I love introducing friends to the sport, as do most of my climbing buddies.
- If you don’t know anyone that climbs and aren’t ready to shell out the cash for instruction,find a local climbing meetup group. I’m an organizer for one in the Philadelphia area, and it’s how I was able to meet most of my climbing friends here.
If you decide to try climbing after reading this, or have any thoughts about climbing in general, let us know in the comments. Climb on!
About the Author
Katie Levy is a Philadelphia-based outdoor addict with a passion for playing outside and sharing that passion with others. She’s a rock climber, ice climber, hiker, backpacker and most recently a mountaineer having completed a Summit for Someone climb up Mount Rainier. When she’s not strapping on a backpack or tying into a rope, she’s chronicling her adventures at https://www.adventure-inspired.com