POSTED ON JULY 11, 2012:
Climbing to new heights with this summer sport
Whether you're looking for adventure, a full body and mind workout or just some scenic views, rock climbing might be what the doctor ordered when it comes to keeping your summer challenging and, quite literally, on the edge.
Casting all 127 Hours flashbacks aside, rock climbing is not only a fun way to up the ante on your current fitness regimen, but a surprisingly safe activity to get your blood pumping, muscles crunching and more importantly, your mind as sharp as a tack.
The best way to cut your rock climbing teeth is to familiarize yourself with all the different styles and available resources, then isolate which route you'd like to pursue. According to rock climbing guru and instructor Adam Smith at Sun & Ski Sports, the two most popular styles seen in the area are bouldering and top-roping.
"A lot of people that don't have the money or resources for climbing a big wall, a good cheap way to start is to go bouldering," said Sean Jackson, certified rock climbing instructor and owner of Bonvoy Adventure Travel, an all inclusive extreme sport and adventure travel service based in Tulsa.
Easy on the checkbook, bouldering involves maneuvering up walls, called "problems," only about 10 to 15 feet above ground with close to no equipment. It isn't necessarily "rock climbing lite," but it is a great way to build endurance.
Participants need only a pair of rock climbing shoes, chalk to keep hands dry, and a crash pad to have a little mineral-based fun. But despite the short distance from the ground, bouldering requires a lot of patience and problem solving while "your spotter, moves your crash pad beneath you in case you fall," Smith said.
Rivaling the bouldering style with some steeper fun is top-roping, a method of rock climbing where someone has access to the top of a climber's chosen "route" and has set up a belay device, a contraption that controls the rope and allows climbers to move freely up and down rock or a rock wall.
"Top-ropers have to take the top-rope safety course," said Burgess, seasoned climber and manager at New Heights Rock Gym. "It teaches one how to put on a harness, how to tie themselves in to the rope, the knots we use as climbers and set up a belay, and to belay on the wall," he said.
New Heights, Tulsa's indoor rock gym, is an urban haven for any rock junkie and is a great place for a newbie to get the feet wet, or in this case, the hands chalky. Featuring top-roping walls up to 35 feet tall and challenging bouldering walls for patrons to enjoy, New Heights Rock Gym offers the whole climbing experience without the harsh elements and air conditioning.
While some may argue that an outdoor climb offers the ultimate experience in comparison to scaling man-made walls in the shade -- or vice versa -- both experiences are easily accessible and available.
Choosing Your Destination.
Once you've either purchased all the necessary equipment for a rock climbing excursion, or you've entrusted the folks at New Heights to show you a good time on the wall, you've got to step up your game and commit to a climbing locale.
"One of the best places right around here is Chandler Park," Smith said. A great place to boulder, unbeknownst to many rock climbing novices, you'd never guess a premier place to break in those climbing shoes was hidden right around the corner. "Then there's Colorado; that's the Mecca," he said.
Of course, not everyone can pop out to Yosemite for a couple of days of fun on the rocks, but rock climbing in Oklahoma doesn't stop at Chandler Park. In fact, she provides many more mineral oddities for her residents to climb on and so do surrounding areas.
"As a gym, we've been making outdoors climbing accessible," Burgess said. "We make trips and invite people with us, so newer climbers can experience it."
While most rock jocks and anyone who travels with New Heights usually trek out to western Arkansas and climb at the highly recommended Horseshoe Canyon near Jasper, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is high on the list of best ascents in the state along with Red Rock Canyon, Great Plains State Park and Robber's Cave, all choice rock climbing spots for any style of climb.
"The easiest and best way to get into rock climbing is to go with a guide," Jackson said. Guides, like instructors, take people out into the aforementioned areas of tall walls and wildlife and show beginners the ropes (no pun intended).
Rock climbing instructor and owner of Wichita Mountains- based Guide for a Day, Tony Mayes, has been getting vertical since the '90s, back when learning from a rock climbing guide was rare in these parts and self teaching was key.
After learning the belay basics, Mayes teaches his students by example and guides them through their first climb up real rock by watching him. "See the way I move, see the holds I grab," Mayes said. "If they see it, they can do it, just try to mimic what the instructor does," he said. "Learning from a guide is where it's at."
Guides are more than a beginner's guru and also try to "make it as unintimidating as possible," Jackson said.
"I think a lot of people don't get into climbing because of fears that aren't warranted," Burgess said. "Climbers are a welcoming group" and the support comes not only from your harness and ropes, but from the community itself.
If that's not enough to get you feeling all warm and fuzzy about squirrelling around on some rocks for an afternoon, maybe the high calorie-burning qualities of the sport and a set of ripped biceps will persuade you.
"It's a very mental sport," Burgess said. "And you use muscles that you wouldn't use for anything else. You'll be using more of your body, pushing your body up walls with your legs and dealing with your core a lot" he said.
Sharp minds, endurance and even sharper bodies are all pretty nifty rock climbing side affects. If you can look past fear, push your body to extreme limits and basically climb mountains, that's a summer well spent.
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