Desperately clinging to a blob of wall-mounted epoxy plastic can be considered a contrived experience by many rock climbers, but that’s indoor climbing. In specialized, tight-fitting shoes that stick to the wall, the experience is as close to simulating rock climbing as it gets. When the rain is moving across the island in sheets, rock climbing is impossible. And that is when indoor climbing becomes a saviour.
The first time I climbed indoors was in 1992 and it was a far cry from what modern gyms offer now. On that early climbing wall I flailed upwards stupefied by the difficulty of the sequence and the tiny holds. I remember saying to myself that I’d never be able to climb something as challenging as a “5.9” rated route.
Decades later, climbing has become essential for the health of my body and mind, and I’m not alone. Those who never grew out of tree climbing and swinging across the monkey bars join me. Indoor climbing offers the perfect teaching environment for new or rusty climbers, a fun birthday option for kids, and a stimulating social environment.
When I arrived in the Comox Valley last year I knew teaching, supervising and setting routes at the Cumberland Recreation Institute climbing wall would be a great way to meet like-minded locals. The CRI wall isn’t fancy, but it is reasonably tall and far better than the 1992 wall that wowed me. As a parent I enjoy that my little kids can tear around the gym when they’re done climbing on a family day out, burning some energy on a rainy winter weekend. It’s far more enjoyable than floundering around under some mossy seeping boulder in the rain by myself, something I’ve been known to do.
In Campbell River, On The Rocks offers a more robust version of the CRI’s platform, and features super climbing on soaring walls. In the boulder room, a host of fun problems winds and arches over the ceiling, then back down, all with big comfy mats to drop in on.
Hardly knowing anyone in a room full of regulars can feel strange, but the crowds at climbing gyms are welcoming. Everyone is happy to share belays and encourage each other. After a recent evening climbing and meeting new friends, I left exhausted and sweaty on an evening when I could easily have been lured onto the couch. Driving Highway 19 with a waxing moon hanging over the mountains, I made plans to bring a friend next time. Few sports force you into socializing like ones where your lives are quite literally in each other’s hands. Don’t take it from me though…mix in some chalk dust, water bottles and sore muscles, and go find out for yourself.