Steven Fleischmann on the benefits and rewards of indoor and outdoor climbing.
Aching fingers grope for purchase, grip momentarily but are betrayed by gravity. The downward rush becomes a blur until I am snapped to safety, all before my pulse could register the fall. Hanging from a rope I survey the wall for alternative routes. The sun shines on my neck and arms and my throat is ready for a beer as my mate laughs in the near distance. Although sore and bone-buggered, I know that if I finish this climb any problems I have tomorrow will be nothing compared to what I have done today.
Have you ever seen a fat climber? Possibly, but it is a sport that can strengthen your forearms like few others, tone the muscles in your back and turn your belly into something that vaguely resembles a six-pack. Your confidence will be boosted and your balance and flexibility will improve.
In order to avoid injuries and accidents it is important to be prepared for any climbing experience. Getting started as a climber is relatively easy, if you begin indoors. For many people a weekly workout in a climbing gym is an interesting alternative to normal gyms; they provide gear hire, expert tuition in footwork, handholds and equipment use and will take you through a warm-up.
Mike Garben, from the Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym, warns that one of the biggest mistakes novices make is to go too hard too fast. “Your forearms get hammered at first but they will build up pretty quickly,” Garben says. First-timers also risk injuring their wrists, muscles, tendons and elbows. A stretch and warm-up will help you avoid feeling as though you’ve touched the void when you wake up the next day.
Lessons will also help with invaluable advice, such as: keep your weight over your feet, and; use your legs to push up rather than the natural response to pull yourself up by your arms.
Ten years ago climbing was a fringe sport that supported only a couple of gyms and a few shops. Today it is a very different story with all the capital cities as well as many smaller towns having a selection of gyms, specialist shops, websites and clubs that can help you go from couch climber to hardened mountain goat.
While starting in a gym is invaluable it’s the limitless outdoors that keeps climbers turned on. Australia is a climbing Mecca, from Mount Arapiles in western Victoria through the Great Dividing Range up to Queensland then across to Umbrawarra in the Northern Territory and down to Kalbarri in Western Australia. Tasmania has a reputation for true wilderness adventure climbing while the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, The Grampians in Victoria and Kangaroo Point in Brisbane can provide much shorter and harder climbing within 10 minutes of a car park.
It is essential to go outdoors climbing with an experienced climber who can assist you with all of the technical details and help minimise danger. If you want to bypass indoor gyms and begin climbing on real rock, companies such as the Australian School of Mountaineering in the Blue Mountains or Arapiles Climbing Guides in Natimuk, western Victoria, can provide instruction on safe equipment use, environmental factors and how to maximise your climbing potential.
But one thing you should always remember is that it’s a long way to the top if you want to climb rocks. Or something like that.