If you were British and into climbing in the eighties anxieties you would have heard of my cousin Jerry Moffatt. He was big in the climbing world so it seems like a good choice for my second exercise.
Not only is climbing in my blood, I even have some experience climbing a portable climbing wall for kids at a festival a few years ago. If I remember rightly I climbed it three times and even managed to ding the bell at the top on my final attempt.
The fear of heights was there. That seems to be a new thing, acquired inexplicably after my first son was born and not noticed until he was old enough to go on playgrounds whereupon l discovered that joining him, even a short distance from the ground, gave me vertigo.
But the indoor climbing wall at my local leisure centre is way higher than a children’s playground.
I take the kids with me for this adventure for my 52 Exercises quest, even though I know they will put my puny climbing attempts to shame, and quickly discover that climbing is quite a palaver.
First the ruggedly handsome and ever patient instructor shows us how to fasten all three buckles on our harness, with one strap tight around our waists and two straps wrapped between our legs cradling our butt cheeks. Digging into my bum and crotch mercilessly in fact, although this effect will be even more pronounced when I’m dangling from the rope at the top of the wall with all my weight on that tightening wedgie.
I really should have written down the name for the hoop at the top of our harness which we’ll rope ourselves to but it escapes me now. Never-the-less we learn how to tie a special knot onto the hoop which will keep us safe and add a heavy-duty carabiner for back up in case my knot comes undone. Or the rope snaps.
I start off ballaying for Kiara which means I’m literally buckled to the floor constantly taking the strain on the rope so if she falls off the wall she doesn’t hit the ground. It seems like a lot of responsibility for a Monday evening when we could be home reading, but fortunately there is a pulley system which holds the rope in place too so she isn’t totally reliant on my strength.
I hold one end of the rope in the air with my left arm and the other end behind my back in the right hand. According to the instructor it’s just a ‘simple five steps procedure’ to pull in the rope but it takes me a while to get the hang of it.
Next we learn the lingo:
“Ballayer ready!” I say and Kiara scoots straight up the wall.
“You’re supposed to say ‘Starting climbing'” I say, “Hang on, I can’t keep up with you.”
The evening passes in a blur of figure of eight knots, tightening and unscrewing carribiners and even a bit of climbing for me, but only once the kids have all shown us how good they are.
Luke my 14 year old ballays for me as I start off on the baby wall. The other walls have names like Treason and Hells Gate but not this one. It has a slight incline which makes it easier to climb and I scramble up in a minute or two.
On my second climb I get close to the top of the wall, level with a ledge that’s thickly coated with dust. Searching for more pleasant place to rest my eyes as I take a breather the ceiling of the leisure centre reveals great fluffy spider webs. I guess the scenery would be more pleasant climbing outdoors, in the French Alps for example, and I wish I was there.
“Let me down.” I command, and Luke obligingly flicks the release handle, sending me gliding back down to earth, or nearby anyway.
I am left dangling a few feet from the ground with the straps digging into my bum and groin fiercely.
“Let me down now.”
“No really, let me down.”
All the kids are wetting themselves with laughter and even the instructor, who seemed so nice, is laughing in an evil way.
“Luke! Let me down NOW!” I screech in a very unclimberly way, whereupon he wallops me down to the floor so I end up flat on my back on the ground. Everyone laughs louder still and I laugh too, trying to look as if I am having a good time. Trying to pretend that they are laughing with me, not at me.
Once finally free of our buckles we discuss how much our fingers, arms and shoulders ache, even though the instructor said climbing was all about leg strength.
It’s good to get home and I am in bed by 9.30pm feeling a bit shaky and very tired.
Who knows, if I’d started earlier I may have been big in the climbing world too and me and Jerry could have been the famous climbing cousins.
But I’ve realized that, like many things, climbing is a lot harder than it looks. Having a light weight body helps, but if you want to get good at climbing you’ve got to work at it and make it your life.
You may have all the right physical and mental attributes to master a discipline but you’ll still have to put in the practice to become great at it. And for climbers that means climbing the wall.
Indoor Wall Climbing Exercise Review
Cost: $25 for unlimited climbs for adults and $12 for three climbs for kids. Of course I only did three climbs and the kids wanted to carry on forever.
Time Exercising: 2 hours
Average Heart Rate: 86 (a bit higher than horse-riding. In other words, not much more than I’d burn doing nothing).
Peak Heart Rate: 131 (for one whole minute).
Calories Burned: 206
Fun Factor: 6/10 (the kids liked it much more.)
Fear Factor: 7/10 (rationally you know you’re all safe but the fear is still there, maybe more so when your teenage son is ballaying for you.)
Post-exercise Glow: 5/10
Leave a comment below with your ideas on 52 Exercises, I’d love that. Thank you.
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