So much of climbing is about overcoming our own mental obstacles: Fear of heights, fear of falling, even fear of failing. Rising out of our own self doubt was the first lesson we learned when we decided to take on the adventure of indoor rock climbing.

BELAY BASICS

The daunting walls at Roca Climbing and Fitness in Rochester stretch up to 39 feet high, with the competition wall standing at 48 feet. The holds and connecting ropes are color coordinated and labeled with numbers that correspond to the levels of difficulty. This allows for easy navigation and puts a novice climber more at ease. 

 After orientation, we were provided with climbing shoes and a harness. We were then shown the proper way to connect our harnesses to the ropes that hung from the climbing walls. 

To belay (or to secure rope to a person for safety) comes in two forms. The first is an auto-belay system that will automatically allow climbers to slowly drop from the wall to the ground. The second is partner-belay, where an experienced climber works the ropes to help the climber descend the wall. 

We learned that we needed to hone both our physical and mental fortitude to accomplish our climbs. “Climbing takes a surprising amount of stamina. I found myself constantly mentally engaged while planning my route or deciding which hand or foothold to reach for next,” Emily Whitcomb says.

LETTING GO

Once secured into the belay system, we found climbing the walls to be the easy part. The fear descended on us once we realized how far up we had climbed and began contemplating how to get back down. “It’s not the climb up that scares me; it’s letting go,” Dawn Sanborn says.

The auto-belay slowly lowers the rope (and the climber) down to the ground, but it takes a second for it to engage. “It’s scary at first because it feels like I’m freefalling for a second before it catches,” Emily shares. “I’ve got to trust that it will work.” 

If both auto-belay and partner-belay climbing sound over-the-top, indoor boulder climbing is another option. Boulder climbing does not use ropes or a belay system of any kind. Instead, there is a 9.5-inch padded mat to soften falls.

Although this seems like an unsafe way to climb, it actually felt more unrestricted and secure to several of us. The boulders are not as high as the walls. We were able to free climb to the top and stand on the pinnacle with a feeling of empowerment.

One by one, no matter which route we chose to try, we all gained solid mental ground as one personal fear obstacle after another was toppled over. 

TAKE IT OUTSIDE

Prairie Walls Climbing in Rochester offers an outdoor alternative in addition to the indoor experience. You can rent their 25-foot-high portable wall, which has been used at Thursdays on First and Quarry Hill Fall Festival. The rental includes all necessary climbing equipment, as well as trained instructors to help with the group. 

Interested climbers can also take classes on outdoor climbing at Prairie Walls. These classes vary depending on skill level, but they can include a small group, private lessons, or an outdoor group climb. Prairie Walls also offers top rope anchoring and traditional leading classes. 

INTERESTED IN CLIMBING? 

Prairie Walls Climbing Gym is located at 4420 19th Street NW. They offer indoor and outdoor climbing experiences. prairiewalls.com 

 Roca Climbing and Fitness is located at 6071 Rome Circle NW. Roca offers an introductory class, Learn the Ropes, which is $25 for non-members. All non-members receive a two-week complimentary membership, which includes access to all climbing areas, rental discounts, yoga classes, and fitness equipment. climbroca.com

Kim Zabel is a freelance writer.

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