Photos by Marshall Altom
I am not an adrenaline junkie…as a matter of fact, when it comes to extreme (or even semi-extreme) sports, I am more in the “Just Say No” crowd. I also struggle with exercise for the sake of exercise, such as running in place on a machine or in circles on a track. When I hear someone say, “I ran five miles today,” my immediate response is, “With no one chasing you?!” When I exercise, I do better with something goal-oriented, where the activity is focused more on the task. Yes, I admit it…I have to trick my body into exercising. Rock wall climbing was not on my bucket list, but it does fit the bill of goal-oriented exercise. Having recently lost a significant amount of weight that put me in a better position to be (cue Wicked soundtrack) Defying Gravity, I was “inspired” to give it a try. Thus, I found myself on a recent morning at inSPIRE Rock Indoor Climbing Gym in Spring to reach new heights.
Like a typical fitness gym, there are memberships, or walk-ins are welcome to pay a daily use fee. I paid a day fee, along with rental for shoes and harness. (Similar to bowling, you can bring your own gear or rent at the facility.) Climbing is doable in close-toed shoes, but the ones at the gym can facilitate better grip/toehold. Pros (or good posers) can also get a chalk bag to strap around your waist. Chalk on your hands can also aid in grip.
Being a “noob” (colloquial from “newbie”), I had to have an orientation so I wouldn’t be released as a danger to myself and others in the gym. Gearing up, I was joined by inSPIRE owner Paul Short. We soon had a “small world” discussion and realized we had past connections. Short played a role in building the challenge/ropes course at HISD in Huntsville and in helping facilitate Huntsville Leadership Institute classes on the course for a number of years. (Mickey Evans, Powerful Paul says tell you hello!)
Short gave us a quick tour and breakdown of the facility, which offers much more than climbing. The gym has a traditional fitness room, yoga studio, climbing specific training room, retail pro shop, award-winning café, and outdoor challenge course. There is even a Kidz Cave area for young climbers, as well as room for hosting birthday parties.
The Spring location’s 18,000+ square feet state-of-the-art climbing surface boasts lead arch walls as high as 43 feet tall. InSPIRE at Cypress has walls as high as 63 feet tall. The gym is separated into six areas, and the creative routes are changed out each week to give members a chance to try something new with every visit. There are double decker boulders for groups, top rope belay routes for pairs, and auto-belay units for solo climbers.
We proceeded to the auto-belay area in The Canyon. Short explained the color coding of the different stations, their posted difficulty ratings, and the corresponding color grips on the rock wall. The auto belay is a resistance pulley system designed to give the climber a controlled, slow descent in the event of a fall or, more hopefully, from a successful climb to the top. After showing me how to clip my harness into the rope for the selected course, Short offers advice to keep my arms bent and use my leg strength, not my arm strength to take me up the wall.
The climb to the top was slow and steady. The auto-belay dutifully took in the slack from my rope as I ascended, pulling with enough tension to keep the rope tight, but not enough to assist drawing my frame up the wall. Common sense told me hesitation would not be my friend, as my muscles would tire out more quickly with delay. I did have to shift my chosen path at one point to get better centered on my corresponding hand and foot holds. Before I knew it, I had reached the top. Only then did I look down. Getting down requires overcoming that strong, natural human instinct against falling. You have to trust the auto-belay, which isn’t easy the first time. Like any relationship, it takes time to build trust! I have to say the experience gives a feeling of accomplishment, for me a much greater one than I would have received exercising those same muscles through repetitive moves with resistance or weights. Short did a great job of making something new, intimidating, and totally different seem like a walk in the park. I enjoyed the experience, and look forward to doing it again, probably with a checklist of courses to conquer so I can keep it task-oriented for my brain!
So, the next time the stresses of everyday life are driving you up a wall, embrace it, and turn it to reality! I will see you at the top.