Lifting weight, not pumping iron

The Boulders Climbing Gym is about a half-hour drive northwest of UVic in Central Saanich; the 75 bus gets you there from downtown Victoria in an hour. I visited there with two of my friends: Sarah Matheson and Michelle Beaudry. The gym is composed of two main parts: the bouldering area and the high walls area. Bouldering means climbing low walls without a harness about 2 metres above the ground. On the higher walls, plastic “rocks” extend beyond the top of the wall, reaching over to hang from the ceiling.

I have to crane my neck to watch as spider monkey figures expertly scale the walls, making sure I’m out of their way as they descend from the ceiling to the middle of the floor.  The gym is very busy and the building is full of Outdoor Club members clinging to walls and hanging from snakelike ropes — drawn by the thrill of defying gravity and mastering the climb. Sarah has been climbing for five years, whereas Michelle is relatively new. They scramble up the brightly coloured walls with awkward stretches, reaching with chalky hands, trying to get a few feet higher, hoping to reach the top.

A slight miscalculation and Michelle’s hand slips. She is safely held by a rope, but her body doesn’t realize that. A shot of adrenaline rushes through her as she considers how far the fall is to the bottom. She regains her grip on the rock as encouraging shouts rise up from Sarah who is belaying her, gathering the slack rope, below.

A bead of sweat rolls down Michelle’s face as her rarely used forearm muscles pull her to the top. She triumphantly slaps the roof and is ready to come down. Michelle slowly lets go of the wall, testing to see if the rope will hold her weight. It does, and she descends lightly, kicking off the wall.

Sarah and Michelle are both members of the Outdoor Club and have a standing engagement to go climbing every Thursday night. It costs $10 for students to climb with ropes and harnesses and $6 to boulder. Suitable shoes and a harness rent for about $7. Rock-climbing is a relatively inexpensive and effective workout for those seeking something more exciting than pumping weights. If you are looking for even more of a thrill, after practicing at the gym try taking those skills to some real rocks.

Sarah’s climbing experience is not gym exclusive. “I mostly climb at the gym,” she says, “but two or three times a year, I go outside. There are some nice places in Esquimalt and Duncan, and one really good one in Nanaimo. I would go more, but I can’t find anyone to go with me who has their own equipment.” My friends do inform me, though, that equipment is easy to rent.

“How much harder is it to climb outside?” I ask.

“In some ways it’s easier,” says Sarah. “Depending on how you climb, you can grab anywhere. There are more holds, not just where people want to put them. But it’s psychologically different; it’s real!”

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