My Rock Climbing Experience: Hippie Culture and Bulging Forearms

by npiller88

heels not recommended There is a place, not far from LAX, where flower children born in the wrong decade come to play. It’s called Hangar 18, and its an indoor rock climbing gym.

When my roommate shepherded me off to try my hand(s) (and legs, and arms, and sheer will) at “bouldering,” I wasn’t too worried. Sure, he did warn me that there are no harnesses. He also mentioned that his friend once shattered his tailbone after landing awkwardly. But he also said: “You should be fine,” and so I trusted him. I figured I would be fine, given the fact that I’d had ample climbing experience as a child, usually of the tree variety, and also that I am a gym rat these days. But sadly, the vanity muscles that us men tend to work on in the gym (chest, biceps), left a little to be desired here.

For all you noobs, “bouldering” is the same thing as standard rock climbing, but the heights are shorter. You might say, “well, sign me up. That sounds easy.” You would be wrong. “Bouldering” is not easy. It is very hard. The shorter rock walls just mean you have no harness or support of any kind, which can be a bit challenging when you are facing an INCLINING wall.

My first climb was a rated a “v-0.” I polished it off pretty quickly, but upon returning down I faced a crowd of enthusiasts either rolling their eyes or shaking their heads. “You didn’t use the proper color-coded holds,” said my roommate. Apparently, I had just used whatever holds were available, when in fact, the route had specific holds that had to be followed. The second run was less successful. A beautiful rock climbing goddess with a nose ring cheered me on as I tried to gain a foothold to start my next climb. As I stumbled and tumbled and failed to get set, she turned to her friend and said “oh, he’s new.” Sprawled out on the mat, I looked over in her direction and smiled about the lamest smile I’ve ever smiled. And then I got up, applied a heavy dose of chalk to my clammy hands, and set out to try a “v-2.” Before I could, my roommate explained the rating system. Apparently bouldering routes go up in difficulty according to the v rating scale, with 0 being the lowest. At this time, v-2 sounded pretty baller.

The route required me to scale a 90 degree wall and then turn myself upside down and travel to the other side by scaling a wall on a low ceiling, as if spelunking in a reverse-gravity chamber. Surprisingly, this wasn’t too great of a challenge. But when I tried to gain the next foothold, a microscopic, misshapen piece of blue plastic that would probably serve as an effective platform for an insect, failed to provide the necessary hold, and I fell again. Thank God for the soft, soft mats. This one moment repeated itself several times. But finally, after much cheering from the peanut gallery, not to mention some useful advice from my roommate (concentrate on core strength, straighten out your arms so they aren’t flexed the whole time and you won’t get so tired), I finally conquered the v-2. I asked him when I got down, with a huge grin on my face, “what’s the highest rating?” I expected 5 or 6. The answer was 14. Suddenly I didn’t feel so great about myself after taking about ten attempts at a v-2.

But when I took a break, I started to realize how these people work their way up to the higher v’s. It’s called grit. It was the goddess’ turn. Before I saw her climb, I probably would have liked to arm wrestle her (even if I would let her win for obvious reasons), but after watching her effortlessly scale a v-4, I suddenly wasn’t too sure that my arm wrestling defeat would be feigned (needless to say, we never arm wrestled). But it wasn’t just her technique (which was impressive), but also the energy and support of the group on the ground. As five or six of us sat cross legged next to the wall and watched one another take turns, shouts of encouragement rang through the air. But not “good try.” I’m talking: “Come on. Push! Do it!” Suddenly, I was getting flashbacks of the weight room. But this didn’t really have the same testosterone-fueled intensity. It was more of a earthy, focused sense of determination sustained by the energy of the group. I was new, but these people came here five or six times a week, and the culture had worked its way into their bones.

We all reeked. When you wear shoes designed to squeeze your toes into a rubbery oblivion, it can be tempting to take them off in between climbs. But there is a price to pay when such a decision is made. Still, most people didn’t seem to care. As we laid on the mats, completely exhausted, I looked around and felt at peace. The drum circle was implied.

But there is a dark side, or an awesome side, depending on your outlook. Many of the most fanatical members of the gym had gotten extremely strong, but in odd, odd places. In rock climbing, it pays to have massive forearms. But as someone who works on his chest and upper arms all the time in the weight room, the sight of novelty-size Popeye arms was a bit of a shock. Still, when guys like that showed off their one-handed, three finger pull-ups, I was a bit jealous.

I’m not sure when, but I’ll be back. Probably once the sensation in my forearms returns.

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One Comment to “My Rock Climbing Experience: Hippie Culture and Bulging Forearms”

  1. That sounded like a really fun, smelly time.

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