It smells like feet.

And you lie on a mat that gets walked over all day long, but it is so soft and squishy that you just can't resist.

Instead of talking about rocks on a wall, you use language like holds, problems, bumping, and crimpy.

Welcome to the wild world of indoor rock climbing.

When I started climbing here and there, I was winding down from training for a half marathon. Running is fun in its own way, but more like type II kind of fun - mostly miserable, but fun to brag about later.

Climbing felt like type I fun - fun the entire time you are doing it. Maybe this was a honeymoon phase of doing an activity I was new to, but I was hooked pretty quickly.

First off, there are a few kinds of climbing. I only know 2 of the many, so won't vouch for the rest, but basically:

1) Bouldering.


You scramble up a wall, without a rope, anywhere from 10-20 feet. All you need is shoes and maybe some chalk for your hands. If you fall, you might break something.

2) Top Rope (Belaying).

You need a harness, a carabiner, a belay device, and a rope to tie into. So, it is a little equipment heavy. You also, in most decent places, need to get certified by gym staff in order to participate, and become "belay certified", essentially to prove you won't drop someone to their deaths while they hang above you. This one requires similar skill as bouldering, except that you need more endurance because the walls are more like 20-40 feet tall. If you fall, your belay partner hopefully catches you, so you can take a bit more risk, and also leverage the pully system to get yourself up the wall.

The first time I bouldered, I could barely finish the problem. I would get stuck in a position and be too afraid to stretch out to grab the next hold for fear of falling weird and hurting myself. I was very hung up on following the route specifically. I didn't appreciate that I could use the rest of the wall, or that I should think about my balance and where my center of gravity was.

The first time I top roped, I was overcome with fear about halfway up the wall, sort of like a mini panic attack. I realized what I was doing and thought about all the horrible ways I would die doing it. I did not trust my belay partners even though I had no reason not to.

Over time, I became more comfortable though. I started to understand how my body felt going up the wall. I strengthened my core and felt I could hold myself up better. I overcame my fear of heights by breathing.

What I think I love most about climbing is that it feels like a very concentrated lesson in "practice makes perfect". Because really, the weeks I climbed more than once, I performed better. And as time has gone on, and I have invested more time in improving, I do improve. I get stronger, more balanced, more flexible, and more brave.

Climbing is also very obviously mental. The first mental block is trusting your partner. You have to trust that someone else will hold on to a rope and not drop you to your imminent injury or death. If you want to participate in the sport, you basically have to buy in. The second mental block is keeping going. It is so easy to just give up, but there is so much reward when you don't. Even though it might only be 1 or 2 more moves, when you finish a problem, there is an immense wave of satisfaction that floods over you.

The most interesting thing about climbing is the more I do it, the more I see how it reflects how I am outside the gym. In many ways, it magnifies my fears and my strengths. For example, when I give up or get frustrated on a problem, I think about how it might apply to something I was doing at work or in my personal life. Or when I try the same route over and over again for 30 minutes, and nail it, how it is such a reminder that effort pays off.

Or maybe it isn't that deep. I'll let Sir Edmund Hillary take it away...

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." **

**Still haven't made it to climbing real mountains, but one day!

Me, mind over mattering.

Me, mind over mattering.