A girl I’ve been seeing is an avid rock climber and has been taking me along climbing lately, several times to the indoor climbing gym and once to Squamish for an amazing day of outdoor climbing. It’s something that I always knew I would enjoy, but I hadn’t ever really had a good excuse to go.

There’s a subset of climbing called “bouldering” that I got to try out for the first time this past Monday, and I learned two things about it:

  1. it’s awesome, and
  2. it hurts!

Indoor rock climbing, if you haven’t been, is a lot of fun. The gym is a three-or-four story building with the floors removed, with simulated rock walls studded with colourful handholds in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Ropes dangle from the top of the wall, and each climb involves two people; one person climbs the wall, while the other handles the rope from the ground, protecting the climber from falling and offering encouragement.

The holds on the wall are each marked with coloured tape to indicate routes, which are rated in difficulty by the experts who run the gym. You choose your route and then climb the wall using only the holds that are marked with the same colour of tape. Simple, right?

Anyway – the first couple of times I ever went climbing I went to the Stronghold in Calgary, a beautiful old brick building that had been gutted and fitted with rock walls. Down in the basement, near the washrooms, was a low-ceilinged room with huge pads covering every square inch of the floor, and the ceiling was a slow sinewave of imitation stone covered with grips. A few male climbers lazed on the mats while one made his way slowly across the ceiling. I distinctly remember having exactly three impressions:

  1. wow, it’s hot down here,
  2. who’d want to climb across the ceiling like that?, and
  3. man those guys are ripped!

Flash forward a few years, and tonnes has changed – for one, I’ve got forty pounds of muscle on Old Drew. For two, I don’t have a pack-a-day cigarette habit, and for three, I’m hanging out with hot girls who are my unquestionable superiors on the rock walls. Still, the initial impressions stuck, and up until Monday of this week I still hadn’t ever bothered trying the bouldering game.

Monday I went climbing, and pushed myself pretty hard, climbing my first 5.10d before being shut down by a 5.11a (just smile and nod). It’s a helluva workout, and my arms were like lead by the time I was done – I could barely grip strongly enough to pick up my backpack! I should have been tipped off right then not to push myself any further, but since I was climbing with a couple of very experienced girls I guess I felt I had to try. On one hand I’m certainly glad that I did, but on the other hand – or forearm anyway – I probably could have taken it a little easier.

After we were each defeated by a wall, one of the girls suggested we boulder for a little while. Wow that’s fun – just like climbing, but more technical and with more arm workout, and without the hassle of ropes and harnesses! The technique is exactly the same – follow the coloured tape – but the wall is almost entirely overhang. I did a few routes, but then my arms basically gave out.

I will definitely go bouldering again. Climbing in the gym is quite expensive, at $18/pop, but when stacked against going for a burger and a couple of pints the choice is pretty clear. As I left the gym though, my forearms began to throb, and my right elbow had a soreness to it that I didn’t recognize – something deep inside the joint, like I’d hyperextended it or something, though I don’t remember doing anything like that.

Tuesday I was fine for most of the day, but the bikeride home from work (North Vancouver to East Van, via the Lions’ Gate Bridge and through the downtown core) really hurt my elbow. It felt as though I’d torn a tendon or something in my elbow, and both my forearms felt swollen and painful. I worried that perhaps it had something to do with my positioning on my bike, and still worry that climbing rocks and riding my track bike might not be compatible sports.

Tonight I will try the same ride again, and cross my fingers that I will not hurt when I get home. I believe in the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” adage, but that really only applies when you give yourself adequate time to heal between killing attempts!