When you started rock climbing for fitness, did you start alone?
February 17, 2012 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Looking to try rock climbing for fitness and mental health, but I don’t have many friends who do it currently and honestly not interested in a social experience if or until I get any good. It seems like it’d be a great sport for me but I’m daunted by the need for belaying partners and all that business. Is this a sport that you even can do solo, or are there other sports that involve a combination of strength and puzzle solving I should be looking at?
posted by migurski to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds dangerous alone. What about 1 on 1 fencing lessons?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:58 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: Ooh, hadn’t thought of that. To be clear, I’m imagining a climbing gym rather than dying out on a cliff face somewhere. Is it normal to show up to a gym alone and expect there to be others there who will watch you in turn?
posted by migurski at 8:01 PM on February 17, 2012

If there is a climbing gym near you, then bouldering is something you can absolutely do alone. No need for belaying partners, or learning the knots. All you need is climbing shoes (you can rent them before you commit to buying) and maybe a chalk bag if your hands sweat. The rating system for the routes, called "problems," starts with a v0, which most beginners who are in decent shape can climb, and go up in difficulty from there. Go to the gym, and start with the easier problems. Make sure there's a mat under you. You don't need to socialize to climb, but it is very helpful to watch other people climbing, to see how they move their body, and learn from their technique. And if you see someone who is able to finish a problem you can't finish, it is absolutely fine to ask them for some help, there is probably some technique involved that you wouldn't know about as a beginner, and all climbers are super helpful and friendly and encouraging. First time you go to the gym, call them up and ask them when they are not too busy, and come in during that time, so you are not intimidating by the awesome climbers, and so it is not overrun with kids for a birthday party. Let me know if you have any questions! CLIMBING IS AWESOME.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 8:04 PM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Memail me, what's your schedule?
posted by JimmyJames at 8:06 PM on February 17, 2012

Best answer: There's indoor gym climbing, which is easy enough to do alone. You'll find two general kinds of gyms: tall ones (where you'll need a partner) and short ones (where you'll have plenty to do alone). If you go in and they're selling rope, you're in a tall gym. If not, have at it. You'll need shoes and chalk.

Climbing is a huge amount of fun; I think it's like those "can you take it apart" puzzles, except that you're one of the pieces. And most people who climb are laid back & friendly. It's a great sport.

[op: at a bouldering gym, you can climb problems alone, or fall in with a group where people take turns attacking a problem. Once you see someone do it, it's a lot easier (delta body-configuration questions) so a group of 3-4 can usually work out a problem and then move on to another one at a pleasant clip.]
posted by spacewrench at 8:07 PM on February 17, 2012

Best answer: It is totally normal to show up to the gym alone. Once you start going pretty regularly, you will start recognizing faces and feeling less awkward about being there alone, and if you do want to try top-roping, then you will have to start socializing a little, just to have someone to belay you. However, don't shun socializing, the best way to get better at climbing (other than getting stronger and leaner) is to get advice from other climbers about where to put your body, when to keep your hips close to the wall, when to keep your body low, when to drop your leg, etc, on a certain problem that you are working on.

Also, don't get discouraged if it's hard at first, some people spend weeks working on the same problem before they can finish it.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 8:13 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I mentioned the same sort of solo worry to a climber, and she suggested this website:

Climb Find

You can use it to match up with other climbers, and choose their level.

A lot of gyms have classes too, so you could use that to get started, hopefully make friends, and then really get into it.

I really enjoyed the sport - part mind, part fitness.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:17 PM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, your answers are helpful!

The gym near my house in downtown Oakland is definitely a tall one, but I looked around inside and there seemed to be some bouldering spots.

The awkwardness is definitely an issue. I’m in pretty weak shape these days so not excited about being obviously inexperienced up on a boulder. Climb Find looks like a great resource, I’ll give it a try.
posted by migurski at 8:24 PM on February 17, 2012

Seconding bouldering. I know your gym as Berkeley Ironworks, and yes there is decent bouldering there. Across the bay you will find Mission Cliffs and Planet Granite, and outside there is a surprising goodness of bouldering near the Glen Park BART station. You will - unless you are a complete asshole - have a social experience bouldering. Climbing, bouldering, whether inside or outside, have a camaraderie that seems to be invariant with crag or gym. It is a delight in itself. Don't hesitate, just go. You will be treated politely at a minimum; enthusiastically as a rule.
posted by jet_silver at 8:45 PM on February 17, 2012

Best answer: "Is it normal to show up to a gym alone and expect there to be others there who will watch you in turn?"

I used to go to a climbing gym where they'd offer us regulars coupons for free hours in exchange for hours belaying solo patrons. They even had special after-hours when we could redeem them just among other regulars and they'd let us try new routes first and things. Anyway, I did a fair amount of belaying for solo patrons and newbies and birthday parties and things like that. I liked helping others learn and try it, I never used all the hours I earned. We had to pass a test before we were allowed to belay strangers at the gym.

Anyway, call the gym and ask, they might have different programs like that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:56 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

my experience is that it's very hard to find a partner if you don't come with one, b/c most people already have one when they go. yea, you could maybe find someone if you go long enough, but that is a terrible experience to go many times and wait.

i don't think bouldering is any fun unless you have some idea of what you're doing.

i think craigslist or something like that would be your best bet until you know enough for bouldering to actually be fun.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:10 PM on February 17, 2012

Give your local gym a call - they would very likely keep a list of people in search of new partners, or alternatively have one on a noticeboard that people can leave their details on. Alternatively, see if they offer a beginner's course. You'll learn the basics, and also meet other people at the same stage of their climbing career.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:46 PM on February 17, 2012

In my experience, many climbing gyms have both tall walls for top roping or lead climbing (where you have a partner belaying you) as well as a section for bouldering (which you can largely do on your own, although you may occasionally want someone to spot you on a tricky bit. This, you can probably get a stranger to do, as they only need to spot you for a minute).

If you're looking for a partner to belay you at the gym, that could be tricky as people often come with a partner, and belaying in a group of three means less time climbing. On the other hand, you could try looking for a group of three who might be happy to have an even number to split into climbing/belaying pairs.

Also, if you're just starting to climb and don't have experience belaying, it may be wise to start by taking a class. Many gyms won't let people belay before they pass a skills test. Even if they do, please warn any climbing partners you meet if you're not feeling confident in your belay skills.
posted by JiBB at 11:22 PM on February 17, 2012

My gym has sessions on some evenings where solos can be partnered together. There's a member of staff hosting and they introduce you and make sure everyone is partnered. If there's an odd number the host will belay. It's pretty informal, people switch around during the session or go and have a boulder. If your gym doesn't do this you could try meet-up, there are several groups in London and they run sessions in all the gyms here.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:20 AM on February 18, 2012

I don't know about climbing, but I would recommend mountain biking, or biking outside on longer park trails. I got a bike about a year ago, and it's really changed my life for the better. There is a park nearby me with gravel trails and rolling hills out in the woods, with 5-13 mile loop trails, and smaller mountain bike trails than fan off of those.

I feel really comfortable going solo on bike trips like this as long as I have plenty of water and snacks and a bike repair kit. I also head out early so if something would happen to my bike that I couldn't repair, I'd have time to walk my bike out before dark. I also wanted to start out solo, because it isn't fun to be the slow poke or feel self conscious while you're learning a new skill.

As a beginner, you will feel the technical/problem solving piece of biking--when to gear up and down, when to stand up, how to zig-zag back and forth up steep hills, how best to go over that (small at first!) rock or root. The learning curve is pretty steep too, so you feel like you are progressing fast.

I also like biking around the rich-part of town, where cars are few and I can gawk at the crazy mansions. I mounted my ipod to my handbars with a couple broccoli rubber bands, and it's great to be able to listen to music and ride around on the park trails or around neighborhoods.

I can't tell you how good it felt to feel the air in my face and the feeling of a less-than-smooth trail under my bike after years of not owning one. And similarly to most rock-climber personalities, cyclists and mountain bikers tend to be laid-back and happy to share information and tips about bikes.

Best of luck to you!
posted by shortyJBot at 4:32 AM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: Oh yeah, the ironworks bouldering area is excellent! I had a roommate that decided to learn to climb, so started going there for five hours a day. There was plenty to do. He never got bored. Also, the thing about bouldering is that it is all the hard part of clinging, with none of the boring bits of top roping. A top rope route is rated on the hardest part of the route. Basically bouldering takes out the rest of the easier stuff and presents you with the problem in a formats that allows you to tackle it over and over again. Focusing on bouldering will increase your overall climbing skills far faster than top roping alone.
posted by rockindata at 5:58 AM on February 18, 2012

« Older Intergenerational bonding   |   Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeep. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.