The indoor rock climbing wall has become a typical sight in most gyms today. Indoor walls suit every level of climber, from the novice to the expert looking to build their skills and strength.
But what is the difference between climbing indoors and outdoors? Where should one go to gain the skill sets necessary to eventually move them to facing the daunting rock faces of mountain ranges?
The purpose of indoor climbing
Indoor climbing walls are a great place to start if you are interested in dabbling in the rock climbing experience. For starters, they are safe and in a controlled area where you can find experts to help you get acquainted with the equipment, and help you to obtain the basic climbing skill set you will require. If you are looking to learn the basics and just figure out if the sport (or lifestyle to some) of rock climbing is something you are interested in pursuing, then starting indoors is great first step.
When you are starting out, find a trainer at your gym to help you understand the basics. When you are just beginning, it is less intimidating to know that if you fall, it will be onto a big, thick mat instead of a thin layer of padding in a granite gully. That security gives you the room to make mistakes without setting your training back with an injury to your body or your sense of personal safety.
Falling is something that you also need to learn to do, most importantly in order to learn that you can recover from it. Your body’s natural tendency is to do anything it can to keep itself safe. Training in a controlled, safe environment at the beginning allows you to ease the natural impulse your mind has to flee from this potentially dangerous situation and train it to let your confidence guide you.
Along with skills, indoor climbing helps to build the strength and condition muscles that you are going to need when you are out on a rock and don’t have as many safety features to fall back on if you need to bail. Training at a gym also gives you the opportunity to cross train. Climbing requires not only physical strength, but cardiovascular health and, of course, mental tenacity. The more training you do in all of these areas, the more it will help your performance improve on the wall, and then on the rock.
Even seasoned outdoor enthusiasts recognize the value of the indoor climbing wall. Many return to the wall for various reasons when they find they cannot take their climbing outdoors. It is certainly convenient. Not everyone can drive 30 minutes out and find a rock to latch onto, and not everyone can climb in their area during all seasons. Most gyms have a climbing wall, so if you are unable to get outdoors, indoor walls provide a taste, a challenge and the opportunity to build your skills for when you can make it outside.
Indoor walls are also built to provide challenges to climbers of all levels. While you may not necessarily get the experience of climbing outdoors, you have to opportunity to learn to problem solve on complex walls indoors so that when you take it out, you can draw on those experiences to get your butt up that rock face.
Moving it Out
Once you feel you have a solid base of skills, strength and problem solving experience on a wall, take your climbing outdoors. Most people who have done both consider the two experiences quite different. The draw of climbing outdoors is a combination of interacting with nature, getting your adrenaline pumping, conquering your fears, pushing your limits and reaching a peak.
Climbing for many becomes a lifestyle, a way of getting away from life pressures, feeling the grit of physical accomplishment and for many it is has a spiritual element of melding mind, body and nature.
The primary difference for climbing outdoors is the natural elements. The key to climbing indoors is that it is a controlled, safe experience. When you are climbing outdoors, you have to have an eye to the topography of the climb, the weather, and anything else that Mother Nature can throw at you.
You will condition not only your body and your hands to handle the rough rock faces, but you will condition your mind to will your body to do things that you never dreamed possible, and the feeling of power and pride you will walk away with will be intense and addictive.
While climbing indoors can be an individual experience, climbing outdoors is very social. You will find yourself surrounded by all types of people brought together by their love for nature and physical challenges. While outdoor climbing, you will experience intense levels of teamwork, and competition. Emotions can run high as challenges are sometimes extreme, but the feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie you will achieve when you have worked together to conquer a rock has no equivalent in the gym.
When you are first moving outdoors, there are many companies that offer classes for beginners. There are several good places to find information. Many gyms with climbing walls will have outdoor climbing training and groups. Another great source of information is at a local climbing gear retailer.
The staff there should have some experience climbing and will know outfits in the area that can get you started. Climbing magazines, web site and blogs are also excellent places to look for classes in your area, but also to tap into the local climbing scene and get some advice from the already converted.
Once you have moved outdoors, there are several different branches of climbing you can get involved in, depending on your preferences of conditions, difficulty and style. There is bouldering, top roping, traditional climbing (single and multi-pitch), sport climbing, ice climbing and mixed climbing.
Climbing builds not only physical strength, but mental strength and determination. It is an activity that can take you indoors to problem solve on a wall, or travelling around the world to meet new challenges, and new people who are learning and challenging themselves alongside you.