With the Summer Heat Long Gone, Autumn is the Perfect Time to Learn to Climb

The temperature was in the upper 60s and blue skies were pushing the gray northward. It was the perfect day to climb, and I found myself at the Garden Wall in Q’Emlin Park counting bolts and attaching draws to my harness. While it wasn’t my first time leading a climb, it was my first time this summer, and Tossed Salad (5.7) was the perfect climb to start with. The route follows a series of easy ledges chiseled into the rock face. There’s one awkward mantle onto a solid ledge not too far off the ground, but from there it’s easy going again until just below the last bolt where you’re forced to gaston with your right hand while clipping with your left. The trick, I realized after contemplating it for a few precious minutes, is to get your feet onto a high ledge and stand up so your weight is more evenly balanced. Once you’ve clipped, it’s a mere two or three holds to the chains. Looking down you can follow the tops of the trees to the outer most limits of the park. The world seems endless from 30 feet off the ground.

One of the many things that makes rock climbing so addicting is the idea that it opens you up to a whole new perspective of the world that few people have. One part physical, one part mental, climbing will test your endurance in a way the fitness gym never will, but unless your goal is to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ll get far more out of one 30-minute session at the rock wall than you will an hour at the gym.

Photo: Siobhan Ebel
Photo: Siobhan Ebel

While climbing is generally thought of as requiring predominately upper body strength, it relies more on good footwork than most beginners realize. If you’re strong enough to muscle your way to the top of a climb, great; that’s still a good workout, but you’ll quickly realize how tiring it is. Using your body position to extend your reach without pulling on your arms allows you to climb longer and build up your endurance. For this reason you don’t have to be strong to climb, but if you climb regularly, it’s a great way to build muscle and tone your body.

Mentally, climbing requires you to place your trust in your belay partner and gear because they’re often the only thing stopping your from hitting the ground. I still find that when I project harder routes I sometimes forget that I’m attached to a rope. I have to pause midway up a climb to weight the rope just to remind myself that it’s there or I won’t attempt the next move for fear of falling. But aside from working out any trust issues you may have, climbing also expands your creativity. Routes and boulder problems resemble puzzles. We want to get from point A to point B quickly, efficiently, and without getting hurt. Even outside where anything is on there are often specific handholds and foot placements that are intended to be used if only because they’re the best available option.

More than anything else though, climbing is just fun. Before I started climbing, my cardio routine consisted solely of running on a treadmill, and while running of any kind is a great cardio workout, running on a treadmill is anything but fun. It certainly doesn’t exercise your brain along with your heart. If you’re looking for a new workout, or even just a new way to enjoy the outdoors, this fall, with its cooler weather, is the perfect time to start climbing.

Climbing Classes and Group Outings

Wild Walls in Spokane offers belay classes every Tuesday and Thursday night from 6-8 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, check out Wildwalls.com. Eastern Washington University also offers belay classes at the campus rock wall. More info at: Ewu.edu/recreationatewu/campus-recreation/epic-adventures/epic-climbing-wall. The Spokane Mountaineers (Spokanemountaineers.org/) offer Tuesday night climbs at John H. Shields park in Spokane and Thursday night climbs in Post Falls for members. If you’re an experienced top rope climber but want practice sport climbing, The Outback wall at Q’emlin with close bolts and a number of climbs in the 5.5-5.6 range is a great place to start. The Arête (5.5), featuring large blocky ledges with good handholds all the way to the top, is the perfect beginner route for top rope or sport. //

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