Indoor rock climbing was all the rage when I was kid in the 90s — it was right up there with laser tag as one of the most popular activities for sporty/rich kids’ birthday parties. As a decidedly non-sporty/rich kid, I didn’t really take to it back then. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it much until a few months ago, when my colleague Niki Grayson posted a photo of them climbing a wall at a local gym. I’m now at that age where I’m starting to realize that I can’t take my health for granted, so I decided to give it a shot.
Now, I’m not the most dextrous or strong person, and I don’t do great with heights. So I decided to start off with bouldering, a form of climbing without ropes or harnesses that doesn’t get too high up. The place I went to had soft, spongey floors surrounding their walls, so falling — while a little scary at first — wasn’t a dangerous prospect. I didn’t expect to make much progress, because again, I’m not in the best shape. But that first time, I made it up a number of easy climbs and made progress on some slightly trickier ones too. I woke up the next day with an aching body and a burning desire to do it again, and I did.
I’ve been back on a semi-regular basis since then, and I’ve realized something — bouldering (and rock climbing in general) is the ultimate gamer solo sport. That might sound kind of cringe, but I mean that it’s an activity that engages your mind and body at the same time, meaning that two people could solve the same climb in completely different ways depending on their strength, agility, and taste. It helps that it just makes you feel cool as hell, too, and you can make little vocalizations like Link in Breath of the Wild as you lunge for handholds if you want.
As a kid, I thought indoor rock walls looked kind of stupid — they don’t look much like actual mountains, more like walls with little colored nubs sticking out of them. But that modularity means that facilities can change up their courses, essentially rotating maps in and out to provide new challenges for climbers. And as a solo sport, you’re not really in competition with anyone but yourself and the laws of physics. To paraphrase Henry Rollins, gravity never lies to you. It’s always going to be the same, which means that as you find yourself making more difficult climbs, it’s all you improving.
Rock climbing is a full-body workout, giving pretty good cardio and strength training. And the mental aspect is engaging, too, requiring not just strategy but boldness and an ability to push past the evolutionarily-ingrained urge to get down from there because being high up is like, crazy dangerous. If you like solving puzzles and you’re looking to try out a new kind of physical activity, give bouldering a shot. Oh, and don’t forget to wear your Climber’s Bandana.