Indoor rock climbing is gaining traction as a fun way to get fit

Claire Keeton checks out Cape Town's newest climbing gym

14 January 2018 - 00:00 By Claire Keeton
Jain Kim of South Korea competes in the lead climbing singles women's qualifier for the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland.
Jain Kim of South Korea competes in the lead climbing singles women's qualifier for the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland.
Image: Getty Images

Long, long ago (in the 1960s and '70s), rock climbing was the death-defying pursuit of wild mountain men and women, typically talented athletes.

But the rise of indoor climbing - social, safe and accessible - and bolted sport routes have transformed it into a sport anyone can enjoy. At the same time, climbing has moved from the edge of the sporting arena to the centre, and will become an Olympic sport for the first time in 2020.

Capetonian David Naude and Angela Eckhardt from Gauteng will represent South Africa at the first climbing Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October.

And the opening in Cape Town in January of one of the world's biggest and highest climbing gyms is sure to spark even more interest in the sport.

CityROCK Cape Town co-owner Robert Breyer says of the Paarden Island gym: "It is like Disneyland with fun, the fear factor and all the safety."

Every climber relies on a partner called a belayer, who holds the end of the rope and catches falls. This takes trust, and climbers develop a real camaraderie.

Sport and indoor climbing are particularly sociable, says Breyer. "It's hard to have a conversation barreling downhill on a mountain bike; climbers talk while they tie in and untie."

Gyms are ideal for beginners and the sport is gradually becoming more diverse, with less-privileged children getting access to walls, and the Mountain Club of South Africa running an outreach programme.

Climbing works well for couples, says CityROCK general manager Cally Bishop. "When my partner and I run or cycle, we do not stay together. When we are climbing we can and still progress at our own pace," she says.

"On Wednesday nights my mom and dad join us. The sport is great for families, from five-year-old kids to 80-year-olds."

The functional moves of climbing keep the body strong and extended, the antidote to computer posture

The functional moves of climbing keep the body strong and extended, the antidote to computer posture.

When climbing flows, it's fluid and graceful, as acclaimed climber Chris Sharma and actor Jason Momoa demonstrate, talking about how mindful it is.

"Climbing made me face my fears and my doubts, explore the impossibles, problem solve through movement ... I found balance and I found my passion," says Momoa, who travelled the world with a pack as a dirtbag climber and is friends with Sharma.

Unlike many other sports, climbing demands 100% focus and it's so absorbing you don't feel fatigue, until you're about to fall or get scared.

Making split-second decisions about where to put your feet and hands or tilt your body clears your mind and is invigorating. Climbing is an escape.

Kent Jennings practises his skills at the CityROCK indoor climbing centre in Paarden Eiland, Cape Town.
Kent Jennings practises his skills at the CityROCK indoor climbing centre in Paarden Eiland, Cape Town.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

From up high you get a unique view and from the top of routes at CityROCK you can even see Table Mountain and the ocean through giant skylight windows.

As I tested a route, 16m up, the wind was blowing my hair and rope just like at an outdoor crag. The gym has features such as cracks, overhangs, flakes and chimneys that mimic real rock.

The world's best solo climber, Alex Honnold, shimmied up three of these cracks on a visit in December, on his way to Antarctica.

Honnold also dropped in on bouldering gym Bloc 11 down the road, which has a community of hard climbers who are great role models.

Cape Town has more than its fair share of hardcore climbers and legends - after all, it
has Table Mountain and sheer walls of rock within hours of the city.

Now outstanding gyms such as CityROCK and Bloc 11 are training up the next generation of climbers, many of whom will go outdoors.

3 THINGS NEW CLIMBERS SHOULD KNOW

1. Safety first: check your harness, knots and gear and be sure that your partner can catch a fall.

2. Conquer your fear by focusing on your feet as you ascend. Most people have an innate fear of falling. Let it go: it's less of an impact, if any, than most falls off a bike.

3. Start easy! Be in the moment and have a good time with friends: don't get hung up on the grades. Relax, breathe and enjoy the view.


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