Author: Holly J Coley / Photographer: Keith Lynch | Holly J Coley
I’ve never been the person who wants to climb every mountain.
When people ask me to go hiking or kayaking or anything active, I sort of grimace and then agree to do it. It’s not that I don’t like these things. I do. I own hiking boots and a kayak. It’s just that I also like sitting in bed and watching reruns of Law & Order:SVU. I treat exercise like a job. It’s fun but I show up because it’s beneficial to my life. So naturally, I was a little surprised by how excited I was when I heard Gravity Vault, the indoor climbing gym, was coming to Poughkeepsie.
Climbing gyms first appeared in the states during the eighties and were designed to simulate scaling mountains. Through the years they’ve become quite popular, giving a way for regular climbers to keep in practice during winter months while also providing a safe alternative to people like me who are not ready for the real thing.
Health wise, the benefits are major. Depending on your weight, you can burn between 500-900 calories per hour. That’s more than running, indoor biking, or even swimming. People make the mistake of thinking it only works the back and shoulders but the reality is that you also use your core and legs to stabilize and push upward. Climbing blends cardiovascular and strength training into an activity that’s arguably more fun than jogging on the treadmill and fyi, I really like the treadmill.
GRAVITY VAULT: AT A GLANCE
I don’t know any of the perks of indoor climbing when I visit Gravity Vault. All I know is that it looks like a cool way to spice up a Sunday that I would otherwise spend editing or loafing around in sweats. The gym boasts 66 top rope stations, two cracks, two separate bouldering sections including a top out boulder and cave, a stem chimney, 14 lead stations, auto belays and a lead arch. It’s 13,000 plus square feet of climbing with a variety of routes to challenge even the most avid climber. And unlike other activities that I’ve always had to push myself to do, climbing is an adrenaline rush. When you’re up there, it’s just you, the wall, and your brain trying to gauge which hold is the best one to reach for next. It’s physical and mental. When you’re up there you can’t think about work or what’s happening on Facebook. To make it to the top, you must stay present.
The space is surprisingly huge with ceilings much higher than seems possible from outside. The walls are covered in multicolored holds for your hands and feet that simulate the different types of grips you’d experience on an actual mountain. Gravity Vault operates on two grading systems: The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is for roped climbing routes and The Hueco Scale (the “V” Scale) for boulder problems. Tape marking holds are assigned to both, a specific color correlating to the grade of difficulty. If everything I’m saying sounds like gibberish, don’t worry. None of this made sense to me either. Fortunately, there are instructors who explain it all and the facility has posters detailing the system.
Walking into the gym I was a bit intimidated. Like I said, the space is a lot bigger than it looks from outside. Keith Lynch, one of our contributing photographers, joined me. In my experience, these types of activities are always better with a partner in crime. Gabe, our instructor, was incredibly personable, knowledgeable and reassuring. He led Keith and me through a serious of walls which became progressively harder during the hour session. He taught us some amazing wrist and forearm stretches, shouted directions on what hold to grab next when we got stuck, and gave us tips on certain techniques that could help us reserve our energy. For example, if we found ourselves scrunched up against a wall, we were to find means to stretch our arms up or to the sides and then pull our legs onto new holds. The reason for this is that staying scrunched uses more energy, causing you to tire before you reach the top. He taught us not to solely rely on our upper body strength but our core and legs.
The first wall we tried had animal shaped holds and was probably designed for small children but Keith and I were not too proud to ask to start there. It was no Mount Everest but as soon as I approached it I felt my heart racing. Moving upward my vision became tunneled and the music and noise of the gym seemed to become quieter as I honed in on the nearest holds. It was a straight climb and wasn’t that difficult but my adrenaline was still pumping. As we moved on to more difficult walls with routes that had us zigzagging and even leaping to new holds (Keith made an amazing one, btw), my focus only became more intense, the rush more exhilarating. If you slip or fall, the harness keeps you safe, allowing you to just swing in the air. Still, the instinctual fear of plummeting to the ground is real and it’s incredible to feel your survival instinct kick in as you ascend. Speaking of which, when you do reach the top you feel like you’ve taken a hit of some illicit drug. You look down and see how far you come and there’s this exhilaration that moves through every inch of your body. Coming down is a little scary, since it requires you to let go of the wall as you push your feet forward but man, what a rush.
Gravity Vault has several climbing options, including walk-ins for $20. This is a great option if you’ve climbed before and know how to tie proper knots and set up your harness. Keith and I went for the staff-belayed climbing option which gave us an instructor for an hour plus our gear (which you can rent). Groups are welcome and depending on the size, given two instructors to ensure maximum attention and safety.
As a serious cardio bunny I didn’t think climbing was going to shock my system like it did but by the third wall my arms shook and I was sweating. Keith, who is a lifter, was feeling the burn too. It was serious work but also so rewarding, even when it came to the walls we didn’t make all the way up. The most surprising thing was how much we smiled during our time. Who knew being physically challenged could be so fun? Climbers, I’m guess. I don’t know if it was the endorphins or finding my inner athlete but I just felt happy during my time and that feeling lasted hours after I left the facility. Even if you’re scared of heights, give it a go. Maybe you’ll see me scaling the wall next to you.
For more information about Gravity Vault or to reserve a spot, go to gravityvault.com.