Learn to Climb Indoors so You Can Take it Outdoors
Climbing is unique among adventure sports in that you can engage in the activity both outdoors and indoors. Sure, I suppose you could put on your backpack and hike stairs inside a tall building, and in Japan you can actually go skiing indoors! But in practical terms, climbing is the only mountain sport that you can realistically practice and enjoy in the flat lands of the city.
While the stunning mountain backdrops of outdoor climbing can’t be replicated indoors, the movement skills, physical strain, and mental challenges of climbing a man made wall are remarkably similar to climbing up Mother Nature’s rock walls. Furthermore, climbing indoors is an exciting and safe group activity. It’s perfect for youth groups, business team outings, church social gathers, first dates (or married couples), and even masters athletes looking for a fun workout that doesn’t involve lifting weights. No wonder the popularity of indoor climbing is exploding across the United State and around the world!
An indoor climbing gym is a great place to learn the basics of recreating in the vertical world. With a few climbing lessons and a few weeks of practice, you’ll improve rapidly into the mid-level grades of 5.8 to 5.10. At this point, you’re likely skilled enough to venture outdoors, but again, begin with a couple days with a professional guide in order to learn the vital safety protocols unique to outdoor climbing.
For example, climbing outside presents the (slight) chance that a rock hold will break or a climber above you might dislodge a hold that falls down towards you. While this is an unlikely concern indoors, it’s a real possibility outside, so you must know what to yell (“rock!”) and how to take cover if a rock is falling above you. A helmet is an important piece of equipment when climbing outdoors, although some prudent folks wear them indoors as well.
Once you become a competent outdoor climber—this might take a year or two of occasional outdoor climbing days with a more experienced climber—you’ll possess the confidence to venture to more remote sport climbing areas and perhaps even begin multi-pitch gear climbs. The more your outdoor adventures depart from the straightforward relatively short routes found in climbing gyms, the more exhilarating and gratifying your outdoor climbing will become.
As much as I love climbing indoors, it’s no replacement for the rich experiences I have climbing and camping with my family each year in the Big Horn mountains, High Sierras, and Appalachian Mountains.
My advice: Learn to climb indoors, but aspire to apply your skills in the great outdoors.
Eric Hörst is an international best-selling author, published researcher, renowned climbing coach, and accomplished climber of 40 years. His book Maximum Climbing: Mental Training for Peak Performance and Optimal Experience explores the cognitive domain and presents dozens of tips and techniques to enhance performance in the mountains and beyond!