A new boulder Leon coming your way.

Do you ever see people excelling in an area and think to yourself I wish I could do that like they do that? Does it ever get compounded by the unfair resonance that you could also excel, but it would take hard work and dedication? How strong is the temptation to just say I guess it’s not my avenue to go down because the alternative involves effort? Is there value in trying anyway in order to achieve some modicum of self-respect?

I raised these questions in reference to writing, but I’m struck by the desire to put myself out there in other ways. Because of this, I’ve embarked on a two week quest to see if rock climbing could be another layer of mortar to keep the walls of my life together (and in the mean time, allow me to construct an unnecessary metaphor).

Basecamp Climbing has opened up in Toronto’s Annex area. I’m plugging them because I appreciate companies who do things right. The facility looks great. It’s still under development, but the potential within the place is through the roof. The routes themselves peak out just before roof level. It’s kind of a requirement of the whole indoor arrangement. The staff are chipper, helpful and are still new enough to actually want you to enjoy yourself. Nothing seems to be a large imposition and it really shows in the attitude pervading Basecamp. It’s fun, everything’s colourful and music blares throughout in a non-intrusive manner. There are a shit ton of routes and they’re well crafted. There’s a range of difficulty levels and poignant route names like Glory Hold give homage to the fact that the venue is a former porn theatre. There’s lead climbing, top rope, auto-belaying and they seem to be doing a decent job of providing for all needs save dedicated bouldering.

The reason I was lured in was their intro pack. It’s $60 plus tax ($67 altogether) that includes a two hour intro lesson, unlimited climbing and gear hireage for those two weeks. Meaning that if the bite of curiosity is enough to get under your skin, you can see how it suits you before you splurge on flashy gear. For me this was perfect. My girlfriend loves climbing and has her own gear. I’ve got a bunch of friends who’re enthusiasts too. Lastly, the other girl I’m dating and her boyfriend climb as a central hobby and it’d be cool to have that interest to share with them.

I don’t have the perfect body for it, but that’s a work in progress. The people I see excel are long limbed and/or lithe. I’m neither of those things. I’m pretty top heavy. I can pull up my own body weight , which I thought would leave me a shoo in, but it turns out that’s not enough. It gets me to a certain plateau, after which I actually need to develop skills. Here are the things I’ve learned so far:

  • Feet first – It’s all about the legs. I’m not Sly Stallone. Even with my arm strength, trying to rely entirely on my upper body means I get gassed halfway through a route. I climbed with a fellow yesterday that kept repeating this mantra. “FEET FIRST” he’d call up. It goes like this: If you’re tensing your arms, you’re expending energy. The goal should be to use your pull only when transitioning from one set of grips to another. It’s all about pushing with those big meaty legs. So often newbies like me will try to reach up as far as I can and then pull up to get onto foot grips. You gotta flip it and reverse it. Step up, then reach for the holds that’re now in range. Once you’ve got your grip, relaxing back into your squat. Preserve energy and keep the arm strength for holding on, not staying tall.
  • Climb with your brain, not your brawn – Climbing involves physical exertion, but so much of the game is mental. Knowing how to weave up the routes makes all the difference. Once you start to understand how the various grips work, you can separate good hand grips from foot grips. Then you can plot out the most efficient route to save time and energy.
  • Be deliberate rather than daring – Grips aren’t haphazardly placed on each route. They’re constructed like a puzzle and your reward is an easier time. Wherever you are, there should be some way to head upwards, even if it means traversing the route a little in order to have a better shot at a more strategic grip. Instead of opting for a tough route and constantly falling, lunging at grips that’re just out of reach, go for something easier. Choose a simpler route and try make it without falling. After you’ve come down, look at the wall and figure out how you accomplished what you just finished. Then try to use those skills deliberately on your next run.
  • Toe game on pointe – Instead of plonking the fleshy pads of your feet on each step, try to get used to climbing with your biggest little digits. The difference is it allows you to plant yourself on smaller grips than you’d think possible, plus it’s a real good pivot point that can let you extend higher than the other parts of your foot. Plus if you want to celebrate your climb with a victory pirouette, you’re halfway there (actual ballet skills notwithstanding).

Am I gonna be chiselled in two weeks? Will I develop a rock hard core and stony face? Will my puns ascend to new peaks? Who knows, but I’m starting from the bottom.

A.K.A. Butts. Let’s sculpt that bastard.

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