by Stephanie Staples | photos by Carmel Ecker –
My forearms are aching. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed my forearms before, but after an hour and a half with climbing coach Tyler Ethier, I sure notice them now!
Welcome to The Boulders Climbing Gym. Even if you’ve never been inside, you’ve more than likely driven down Wallace Road a time or two and noticed the gigantic garage doors at the back of Stelly’s Secondary School. On lovely days the doors rise open to reveal a world class 15-plus metre (50-ish foot) climbing structure. If you think it looks big when you are driving by, let me assure you: it looks gigantic when you are standing beside it!
My friend Carmel is always up for an adventure, so she and her son Grayson (10) and I signed up for the “Just Hang” session. Let the adventure begin!
First stop: fill out a waiver. Clearly wall climbing is not a walk in the park – there are risks, of course – but throughout the entire experience we felt 100% safe and secure.
Next step: harnesses. Not flattering but not uncomfortable and very necessary (unless you are bouldering).
Step three: climbing shoes. Think bowling shoes but even less comfy. Yes, you can climb with your own shoes, but take this rookie’s advice – wear theirs; you’ll be glad you did. Function supersedes both fashion and comfort in this case and be prepared to get a size larger than you usually wear.
Tyler, a gym supervisor and our belayer-de-jour with whom we have entrusted our lives, has been a part of the Boulders team for three years and if his big smile is any indication, he likes it just fine. Throughout our session we make our way progressively through from small gym to the bouldering area and the grande finale: “the big gym” (the one you can see from Wallace).
Though the age spread of our group was some 46 years, there was something there for all of us, making this a cool family-friendly adventure. If you don’t like heights or you don’t want to climb, you can boulder on your own with just a few instructions.
But if you want to climb, wow, you are in luck! We are so fortunate to have this not-for-profit, world-class facility in our own backyard – they offer speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing and in no time at all, even a complete newbie can be making great progress. Staff manager Libor Hroza is a veteran speed climber and two-time former world record holder for the fastest time up the speed wall (don’t blink: it’s sub six seconds!). World Cup competitors are training at Boulders now, so you just never know what (or who) you may see there on any given day.
As for our little group, we were all able to work at our own levels. It was cool to see Grayson say “that’s enough” when he was ready to come down and equally cool to see him push a little bit past his comfort level. If at any point you want to come down, just say the magic words and poof – you are lowered effortlessly, securely and painlessly to the cushy floor mats.
What surprised me most was how winded I was just by one turn going up the wall. I was very glad to spell off with my peeps so I could rest. Note to self: bring a water bottle next time! I loved ringing the bell when I got to the top of the walls and the view from the big gym wall was spectacular, satisfying and quite surreal! This would be a great team building experience for personal and professional groups alike.
Tyler said he’s seen all types and all ages of people tackle the walls and that fear is normal, common and okay. As I say in the personal development world: participate to whatever level you feel comfortable and 10% more! The best thing about getting higher on the wall is you get to “float” down longer; it’s a very cool feeling!
And as Carmel said: “Walking into the big room is a little intimidating but it felt pretty badass to get to the top!”