How I rock climbed my way to the top

Would you put your life in someone else’s hands?

That’s pretty much the gist of indoor rock climbing using the top rope method at Philadelphia Rock Gym. Top rope is climbing up ropes to the top of a rock gym wall, a boulder, a cliff, a bridge or whatever you have the top of the rope attached to.

If you’re anything like me, you get bored with the same gym routine. It’s like spending all week doing the rat race only to go to the gym and run in a hamster wheel for a couple hours. 

If you want mindless exercise, this is not for you. But if you crave a mental puzzle, emotional fulfillment and a physical workout, this is it. And with an intro class, you get two weeks free at any of their locations minus the rental price of equipment (harness, shoes).

The last time I rock climbed, I was a teen at a high-adventure summer camp, and I can still recall the delightful taste of adrenaline-filled victory as I scaled the top of that cliff. So I reached out to the East Falls location (larger, taller locations include Oakes, Coatesville and Wyncote) and we were in like Flynn.

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Arriving after yoga class (which I don’t recommend — do it in the morning, when you have the most energy), we were led through a series of instruction classes by our amazing teacher, Tom. We learned how to properly tie knots, wear almost-too-tight climbing shoes with Velcro, secure our “look at my crotch” harnesses and use the proper lingo, with terms like “belay on,” “climb on,” “take” and “coming down” to help you stay in unison with your partner. Trust is key, and keeping the rope taut is important, so in case your climbing partner loses their grip and falls, you will be there to catch them.

The metaphors do run deep. Rock climbing is a great way to lose weight, get in shape, meet new (healthy) people, build confidence and overcome a fear of heights. Climbing is challenging and addictive as well, like solving a vertical puzzle. 

Once set free on our own, we were flying up those walls like nobody’s business. I even suggested skipping to a more challenging level, but by the time we got to my last climb, I could barely get off the ground. Encouraging teacher Tom popped by and suggested some other angles to climb, but it was as if my arms weighed 250 pounds. 

One of the slim female workers cruised by, climbed in front of us like a weightless monkey and said to use my legs more — to which I muttered, “It’s easy when you weigh 100 pounds.” After climbing for four hours, I was spent and slightly frustrated with my lack of upper body strength. Tom reminded me our bodies were fatiguing at this point.

Will I be back? Most likely — right after I cut off my naturally long fingernails and can climb on real rocks outside, which they also offer after passing a test. Because for me, it’s all about nature.

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