Not everyone does well 30 feet off the ground. Or hell, even 15 feet.
Some of us have a tendency to panic.
Of course, that tendency to panic is something that you might not really know about yourself until you’re, say, part-way up a rock wall at an indoor rock climbing gym (because climbing looks like a load of fun and so you decided to give it a try and you maybe even thought you’d be a natural and this would be your sport, or at the very least you’d be able to reach the top of the beginner wall because it doesn’t even look that high…)
And then there you are, 10 or 20 or 30 feet off the ground, clinging to the wall like some terrified cat, throttled by fear and imagining all the ways the situation could go wrong.
It doesn’t matter that you’re safely harnessed or that there’s a competent belayer holding the rope below saying really nice things like, “I’ve got you. You’re not going anywhere. You can do this.”
Because that’s not what it feels like.
It feels like you’re going to fall. And that falling is really going to hurt.
Sure, you can work on overcoming a mild fear of heights with beginner lessons, practice and plenty of positive self talk, but if you’d like to do some climbing and still stay within comfortable proximity to the nice, safe, friendly ground, Evo Rock + Fitness in Portland has some options.
Evo is the reiteration of Maine Rock Gym in Portland. It’s notably bigger in its new space on Warren Avenue. It’s spectacular to walk into for the first time, too, with its towering gray walls speckled with colorful holds, the overhangs that look impossible to traverse, and the climbers ascending up and up and up (and you, craning your next to watch in amazement).
There are also plenty of beginner-friendly climbs to get you started (and maybe take some lessons).
Or leave the harness and rope out of the equation all together and explore the bouldering walls and the systems board, play some rock wall Twister, or get on the rock wall treadmill.
Yes – a climbing wall treadmill.
Climbing wall treadmill
The climbing wall treadmill is a magical contraption. The wall revolves (like a treadmill! With handhold and footholds all over it!), which means you can climb and climb and climb…and never get more than a couple feet off the ground. Adjust the speed and angle – and you can complicate matters by trying to use only hold of a certain color (green only, for example).
See the wall in action:
Rock wall Twister
The rock wall Twister is maybe meant for kids, but there were no children around when we were there, so we gave it a try. You’ll need a friend to spin the spinner, but you can climb up and over the wall (you’ll feel very triumphant) and then hang out up there before descending via a cool little rock wall tunnel. This is a confidence builder – for kids and grownups who are just getting started.
The systems board, like the rock wall treadmill, is tool for experienced climbers to use to warm up or to practice different kinds of holds or even to ensure they’re working out both sides of their bodies equally (at least that’s what I read on www.climbstrong.com). But these contraptions are also great for new climbers to get used to finger and foot holds, build endurance and just get a feel for climbing without the whole heights thing getting in the way.
The angle of the systems board at Evo can be adjusted, too, and there’s a nice big crash pad under it, just in case.
I’m not sure if it was eagerness or impatience that drove me to the top rope the handful of times I went to a rock gym. Climbing to the top – that’s the whole point, right? It never really occurred to me that I could spend all my time on the bouldering walls. But during my recent visit, we spent a good couple of hours there. And wow, it was fun, it gave my muscles a run for their money and no one panicked.
You can followed a marked route or chart your own course, getting a feel for the holds and your own form (again – a lesson would probably be a good idea). But even if you just spend some time experiementing, the bouldering wall is a splendid place to hang out.
Evo Rock + Fitness offers monthly memberships ($58 for adults, $52 for students and children over the age of 10, and $45 for military or children under 10) and one-day passes ($16 for adults, $14 for students and children over the age of 10, and $12 for military or children under 10). They also rent all the necessary equipment (shoes, harness, belay device, chalk bag) for $10. Rent shoes only for $5.
It’s also worth noting that Evo also has cardio equipment and weights, fitness classes like yoga and Zumba and even a Tango class.
And if you find your climbing confidence growing, there’s plenty of tall walls and problems to tackle.
Evo Rock + Fitness
65 Warren Ave., Portland
FMI: www.evorock.com/portland-me and on Facebook
This post was originally published on February 10, 2016