Author: Alyson Kaufman
A few months ago, I met a guy with a lean, ripped body who told me that he didn’t lift weights. Not even Beyonce wakes up looking that toned so I asked him, “How [can] this be?”
“I climb,” he explained.
Until then, I had thought of indoor rock climbing as an activity reserved for children’s birthday parties and adventurous second dates. It had never occurred to me that this was a form of working out, and an effective one at that!
“You’re telling me that if I go climbing on the regular, I’ll be brolic like you?” I was getting excited. I’ve always thought climbing looked like fun. I would have sick guns in no time.
“Climbing isn’t easy,” he warned. “Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it looks.”
Nothing motivates me more than someone telling me I can’t do something, so I decided to check out Brooklyn Boulders, an indoor rock climbing gym in Park Slope. How hard could it be?
Entering the gym I was immediately asked to sign a waiver and list my emergency contacts. I tell you, I could be going on a merry-go-round and if someone asks for my emergency contacts it automatically gets my adrenaline pumping. Exactly how dangerous is this? Is one emergency contact enough? Should I add six more in case my dad misses the call? I think my roommate from freshman year of college knows my blood type. Maybe I should call her to make sure.
After signing my life away and renting shoes and a harness, it was time for the tour. It was a Thursday night and the gym was packed. Most of the people there were clearly regulars: men and women in their twenties or thirties, all of them in amazing shape. A couple of men were shirtless, and I noticed they had the same lean muscles as the climber I had previously met. Every wall of the fairly spacious gym was covered in boulders, and there were people climbing on almost all of them.
Brooklyn Boulders offers four different types of climbing: There’s Bouldering, which doesn’t involve any sort of harness but the walls are shorter and stand over a cushioned floor. There’s Top-roping, which involves climbing super tall walls with a rope system operated by a partner. My tour guide said that I couldn’t do that as a beginner because I’d need lessons on how to operate the ropes. There’s no partner I’d trust with my life anyway, so I wasn’t complaining. There’s Lead climbing, which is too advanced for me to even fathom; and then there’s Auto-belays-climbing, which is what I did. It’s basically the same as Top-roping, except you don’t need a partner. The rope, which clips onto your harness, attaches to some contraption at the top of the wall which lowers you down slowly when you kick off and let go.
I’m going to be honest: my first time on the wall was terrifying. The instructor gave me a quick tutorial and told me to climb a quarter of the way up. My heart was racing and a fear of heights that I never knew I had was starting to develop.
“Now just kick off the wall and let go,” the instructor said. I know he said the rope would lower me slowly, but the idea of simply letting go felt similar to how I imagine skydiving. Sure, you have a parachute, but in that moment before you jump you’re putting a lot of faith in that man-made device. The scariest part is taking the first plunge.
But I did it and as soon as I saw that the rope system actually worked, I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. Actually, it was a lot of fun. Climbing the wall was like doing pull-ups and squats at the same time, except I was too focused on getting from point A to point B to notice. Even though I realized I was using my arm and leg muscles to pull myself up, it didn’t feel like I was working out. I wasn’t counting reps or thinking about what I’d eat when it’s over because I was too busy thinking, What can I grab onto next? And, Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die!
In the end, I didn’t get to the top. I made it about three quarters of the way up but by a certain point, I couldn’t figure out what to step on to get myself even higher. And I might have chickened out a little.
When I’d decided to call it quits, a six year old boy took on the same wall I’d surrendered to. I smiled at his adorable efforts, until he soared to the top and rang the bell in less time than it took me to change my shoes. I said, “If he [can] do it, I [can] do it.”
I decided to give it one last go.
Nope, still can’t get to the top but as Miley Cyrus says, “‘It’s all about the climb.”