Where climbing the walls is a good thing
If you’ve ever suspected that your children want you dead, there’s an easy way to tell that’s pretty definitive: They ask you to take them rock climbing.
A few weeks ago, my daughter Maia came to me and asked if I’d be willing to go rock climbing with her at High Point Climbing and Fitness downtown.
“Remember where I went for that birthday party? It’s perfectly safe. Even for old, out-of-shape people.”
“Old…? Honey, I’m in my 40s. I’m not old.”
“Well, you’re really out of shape.”
“I have a shape!”
As she continued to press me on it, going on and on about how I would die soon if I didn’t get some sort of exercise, I actually began to fantasize about falling from a great height. Eventually, she informed me that as her father I was supposed to be setting a good example for her and her brother. A healthy, happy, fit example. Therefore, I had to do it. I reluctantly agreed.
After taking some time to get my affairs in order, I gathered up both of the kids (Maia and her brother Logan) and my Significant Other (Elena) and we headed downtown to Mellow Mushroom to begin our adventure. (One nice thing about High Point is that it’s right next to the ’Shroom. I figured that if I was about to fall to my death, my last meal should be a good one.) Eventually, the meal ended and my children dragged me across the alley to High Point.
Of course, since rock climbing is dangerous, you have to fill out a waiver before you can even pay. You either do this on-site, using one of the two terminals they have in the lobby, or you can fill them out at home by visiting their web site, highpointclimbing.com. Maia had been climbing there recently, so I knew the drill. To save time, I filled out waivers for everyone at home and presented them when we walked in the door.
Within minutes, we were all pulling on climbing harnesses and struggling with what can only be described as the most uncomfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Seriously. Imagine bowling shoes that have teeth and hate feet. Of course, I had recently injured one of my feet and Elena is normally on her feet all day, so we might just be biased against anything that isn’t made by Crocs. The kids didn’t have any issues at all with the shoes, and, realistically, you need the shoes to be tight if you are going to be climbing up rock walls. To be fair, after a couple hours of climbing, the rest of me was so sore that I had forgotten all about how much the shoes hurt.
Once we were geared up, a very friendly fellow, who was also named Logan, gave us a brief 10-minute orientation and safety talk. This was actually pretty neat. High Point has a lot of safety features in place and Logan was very thorough describing them all. When he was done, I was actually anxious to tackle my first wall.
Arriving in the kiddie section, Maia first double-checked my harness and then showed me how to attach the auto-belay device.
Now, if you don’t know, “belaying” is where someone holds the lower end of the rope to which a climber is attached. The rope is passed through a belay device and as the climber climbs, the “belayer” takes up the slack in the rope and uses the belay device to apply friction to the rope. The point of all this is that if (when) the climber falls, the friction provided by the belayer and the belay device prevent them from falling too far.
The auto-belay devices that High Point provides are pretty amazing. It’s basically a climbing rope, anchored to the top of the wall, that you attach yourself to. When you fall, it uses hydraulics to “catch” you and lower you to the ground. Pretty much every wall in High Point has one or more of them in place. This is good, because without them High Point would be just another niche “adventure sports” place. With them however, it’s possible to have the whole family take part in climbing. (While we were there, we saw kids as young as 7 climbing with their parents, all thanks to the auto-belay systems.)
Going into the evening, Maia had bet me that I wouldn’t be able to “drag that old carcass” of mine more than three feet off the ground. I was eager to prove her wrong, and I scampered up my first wall, reaching the top in fairly short order.
Looking down, I realized two things:
• I had earned my daughter’s respect for the first time since she became a teenager.
• I had no idea how I was going to get down.
It was at this point that I became aware with growing horror that, oddly, one of the few things Logan had left out of his orientation speech was how to actually use the auto-belay to descend.
At this point, Maia’s respect turned to amusement as she tried to coax me down from the wall.
“Just fall backwards.”
“It will catch you. Trust me.”
“Ha! I’m too fat! You tell me so every day! It’s going to snap!”
“You are too fat, yes. That’s true. But, these things are rated to catch someone at least as big as you. Just fall backwards.”
So—I fell backwards, and, again, I realized two things:
• I wasn’t going to die! After a sickening half a second, I felt the hydraulics kick in. The rope went taught and I was lowered to the ground.
• I wasn’t positioned correctly. In fact, I was basically flat on my back, and the ground was coming at me a lot faster than I would like.
Landing on my back, I realized that while I wasn’t hurt, I didn’t want to do that again. So I took some time learning how to use the auto-belay to dismount the wall from lower heights. And, because I love you guys, I’m going to share the proper way to dismount a wall. (Remember to practice this at low heights to start with.)
Keeping your feet on the wall, grab the rope with your hands and begin to fall backwards, like one of those cliché “trust” exercises. When you feel the auto-belay grab hold, push off with your feet and bound down the wall. Make sure your final push away is slightly stronger than the rest, so that you end up with your feet beneath you just as you reach the floor. Otherwise, you’ll land on your back and that can be pretty painful. It is, at a minimum, hilarious to any kids you brought with you.
Honestly, the most difficult part of the whole night, for me, was learning to trust the auto-belay. Once I did that, however, I found that climbing is actually a lot of fun.
Of course, the kids had a blast. Both of them love to climb things and High Point is a place where they can indulge that without me having to worry about them getting seriously injured.
As I mentioned earlier, there were quite a few families there. Every one of them I spoke to had been coming for months (if not longer) and they all said the same things: High Point is a great place to take the whole family. It’s fun, it’s safe, it’s a great bonding experience and it’s challenging in the best sense of the word. When you finish up for the night, you’re sore, but you want to do it again.
High Point also seems to be a good place to bring a date. There were quite a few couples there on the night we were climbing. And, of course, you can have a birthday party there, too.
Something I didn’t realize when I walked into High Point is that it’s also a full gym. To be sure, it’s not as “hard core” as a place like Gold’s Gym, but they have a decent selection of equipment that complements the focus on climbing so that you can easily get a full workout. They also offer yoga and spin classes.
Just like other gyms, you can buy full year’s membership for yourself or your entire family. Or, you can do like we did and just get day passes. Day passes allow you full in/out privileges for the entire day and are actually a pretty good deal at $15. (Equipment rental is extra, however. So the total ends up being a bit more than $20 per person.)
Finishing up for the night, I was pleased to find that, despite gravity’s best efforts, I was basically unharmed. More importantly, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I had climbed a wall. Several walls, in fact. Given my normally sedentary lifestyle (coding, writing, sleeping) that’s a pretty big deal for me. I’ve been needing an exercise outlet that makes me want to push myself, and High Point is exactly that. I’ll definitely be going back for more.
High Point Climbing and Fitness is at 219 Broad St., (423) 602-7625.