Thursday, January 12, 2012

REAL Rock. As in, Not the Plastic Kind.

Happy Thursday! We are in the homestretch of the week and I want to throw something a little different your way on LaFemmeFITalle today. I realize that my readers are at varying levels of fitness- not to mention have varying interests in topics- and this one is for the high adrenaline-seeking types who like to try new things and think outside the box when "working out". 

Today, Danielle will give you a glimpse at a type of sport that few people (that I know, anyway) take up. It can sound a little daunting and, if she wasn't my cousin and one of my very best friends in the world, I'm not sure I wouldn't write it off as "too hard!" But having watched her truly fall (not literally!) for the sport over the past couple of years really makes me more intrigued to give it a shot. Perhaps I will when I visit her across the Pond next time...

 I don't want to give anything away so, please, enjoy Danielle's guest blogging post!
From a former fitness enthusiast, now a climber: an
                        invitation to go outside.
Rock climbing is something  that most people have probably tried, ie. down at the climbing wall (every city has at least one) but that few have really tried—and by that I mean going to a crag and tying into a rope. Let me be honest: Pulling onto plastic rock, indoor rock—what an oxymoron—though it makes a cute(ish) photo op for Facebook, is not climbing. It is to climbing what the elliptical machine is to skiing. That is: Barely even related. 

When I first pulled onto real rock in 2009, it was on a friendly little route called Pillar Variant. I was there because climbing was something I’d always wanted to do, and I met a guy who was really into it and keen to take me out for a try (I’ve found out since that this is how so many female climbers begin…) My first route was a mere 40 meters high. They say the first route you climb is always terrifying, and indeed it was. It made anything I’d ever tried at the climbing wall seem like it happened in black and white, while this—real rock!—was in technicolor. The landscape, the adrenaline, my heart pounding … Nature is no gym. It is a million times better.
 Peak District, England

To be clear: I am not naturally athletic, strong, or brave. I am possibly the diametric opposite of all of those things. But, in the first weeks of trying climbing on for size, I found out it doesn’t take a traditional athlete to be a climber, nor does it take a lot of physical strength. Lots of people, especially women, are scared off it because they think you need to be strong; not true. 

Women, at a major disadvantage in terms of upper body strength, turn out to make some of the best climbers. (Check out Lynn Hill for one amazing example.) Our tiny fingers slip into cracks in the rock that guys can’t touch, and we’re smaller, which helps. Climbing, you’ll learn from your first time on real rock, isn’t about being strong. It’s about balance, poise, dynamic movements, timing … It’s surprisingly like dancing, as much an art form as it is a sport.
Muckross Head in Donegal, Ireland

I’m actually using “climbing”  to refer to a couple of different things. There’s sport climbing, which is where you tie into ropes, have a person belaying you from below, and you make your way up a rock face by clipping your rope into metal bolts that have been pre-placed into the rock. Sport climbing is pretty safe, as safe as climbing a route at the climbing wall. (If you’re competitive, sport climbing is a good way to channel that.)

Traditional climbing, or trad climbing, is about making your way up a rock face by placing gear into crevices and cracks that you find in the rock, and clipping your ropes into the gear you’ve placed yourself. If you have a technical/mechanical mind (ie. you like gadgets and machines), or if you’re especially independent, trad climbing is brilliant. If sport climbing is like driving an automatic, trad climbing is driving a manual: more control, more responsibility.

There’s also bouldering, which is about climbing rocks without ropes, on routes low to the ground, with mats placed on the ground below. Bouldering is about technical skill, and, for many people, the beauty of movement. I suggest trying every kind of climbing. I’m still a new climber, and have spent the past two years mostly bouldering with a bit of trad climbing and one adventure in deep water soloing (climbing on overhanging cliffs above the sea) all of which have their own charms and thrills. 

The best thing about climbing: It’s a zen thing, a teacher. Clinging to the side of a mountain with my left hand, unclipping a piece of gear from my harness with my right, I have been able to ignore the vast dimensions of space spreading out on all sides, and hone in on a tiny crack in the rock in front of me in order to correctly place that bit of gear and go on to the next move … and I can’t even throw a football.  Climbing forces you into the zone because—your body is telling you, regardless of the safety of ropes—this is life or death. And your mind responds by learning to handle stress in a different way, channeling it to help you get to the top.
Cliffs on the Mediterranean, near Olympos, Turkey 
The second best thing about climbing: It takes you to some amazing places. For me, so far, I’ve climbed over the ocean southern Turkey, in the desert in Texas, on mountains and rock faces all over Ireland, and England … And I’m just getting started. The key is to avoid convenience sometimes, to pass up the climbing wall (or the gym) in favor of something a little more primal. Your body and soul will know the difference.
Like I said, a bit on the intimidating side but I think the "pros" Danielle just listed here make it a challenge worth accepting! Have you ever tried climbing? Would you? 

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