Monday, August 21, 2000

Climbers love it - here's how to get started

Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Climb on! In rock climbing circles, that's the standard ready-to-go signal at the start of an ascent. But it also could be the rallying cry of the small but die-hard corps for whom climbing has become a religion.

        Indoor and outdoor climbing is still widely regarded as a fringe sport — the New York-based fitness research company American Sports Data Inc. reports that about 7 million Americans climbed at least once in 1999, up slightly from the previous year. Many, says spokesman Harvey Lauer, consider it a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, “like bungee jumping.”

        But as more and more people seek out extreme activities, climbing's popularity may surge. Chris Wood, manager of the indoor climbing gym RockQuest on Kemper Road, says the sport's appeal is broadening.

        “We still average 1,000 new customers every month and we've been open for five years,” he says. “There are several categories of climbers. There are people who do it for fun indoors ... then there are your hard-core, die-hard rock climbers who are mostly male, age 16 to 27. But the number of women in the sport is on the rise.”

        Women, in fact, may make better climbers than men, Mr. Wood says. “Men will see a difficult spot and try to muscle their way through it ... women will look at the same thing and think, "I'm not strong enough to do that. How can I do that without exerting so much physical effort?' And they start thinking about technique right off the bat.”

        But where to start? Unlike, say, jogging, rock climbing takes a good deal of preparation and the initial supervision of more experienced climbers. “You never want to go alone when you're a beginner,” cautions Thornton Elmore, climbing specialist at the Northeast Atlanta location of the adventure sports chain REI. Below, we've provided a list of what you need to get a leg up on this complex, fulfilling pastime.

What to buy

               Beginners get more than sound advice by accompanying advanced climbers, Mr. Elmore says. Expert rock crawlers usually come well-equipped with ropes, clips, rings (called carabiners) and temporary anchors (cams), so novices need only spring for these essentials:

        • Harness: Supports climber. Connects to ropes and rock anchors to prevent falls. The REI Trilogy ($55), with padded, adjustable leg loops and four gear loops, is a good starter. For people with back problems, Mr. Elmore recommends the Black Diamond Dyno ($49.95), which allows you to shift weight from the back to the legs.

        • Shoes: Sturdy, flat-soled climbing shoes, called board-lasted shoes, are best for beginners. Mr. Elmore suggests the Five Ten Spire ($99): “It's not very flexible, so it's good for feet that aren't yet strong enough to hold on to the rocks.”

        • Chalk bag: Absorbs sweat from the hands. Available in either finger or whole-hand sizes, each around $19. Chalk, in palm-size solid chunks or in powder form, is about $4.

        • Rope: Intermediate climbers will want to invest in a rope that's bi-colored, to aid in balancing lengths, and dynamic, or slightly elastic, to cushion falls.

        Ropes range from $99 to $195.

Where to climb

               • Climb Time, 10898 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash. 2 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Indoor climbing gym offers 28 top-rope walls, plus bouldering walls. $8 for the day. Shoes and harness rentals available for $2 each. Safety training for first-time climbers, $2. Signed liability waiver required for climbers under 18. 891-4850.

        • RockQuest, 3475 E. Kemper Road, Sharonville. Noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. About 18,000 square feet of climbing space, a pro-shop, lockers and showers. $12 daily. Shoes and harness available for rental for $3 each. Private lessons, $25 per hour; workshops, $15 to $35 during peak season (October through March). Signed liability waiver required for children under 18. 733-0123.

        • Urban Krag, 125 Clay St., Dayton. 1 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Renovated 19th-century church transformed into 8,000 square-foot climbing gym, with pro-shop, weight room, lockers and showers. $10 daily. Shoes and harness rentals $3 each. Daily themes include member's night, college night, beginners' night and family night. Classes range from $50 to $90. Signed liability waiver required for children under 18. (937) 224-KRAG (224-5724).


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