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Workout Wednesday: Rockreation

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Staring down to the ground from about 20 feet up in the air was nerve-wracking, to say the least. My palms were sweating, and the person holding my ropes (and my very life) on the other end was just as beginner as me.

I was deep in the throes of Fight Gravity 1, and I was learning on the spot how to navigate the scaling of a wall.

A climbing gym in Culver City, Rockreation is hidden in a sprawl of empty office buildings. There’s a subculture-ish vibe in the place, the people at the front desk exchanging witty inside jokes about climbing and Hip Rock-Climbing Dads mulling about with their kids.

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As I waited for my 2-hour class to begin, I watched college-age guys teach lessons to groups of 9- and 10- year-olds, tossing their shaggy hair back from over their eyes periodically. Very summer camp.

If they can do it, clearly, I can do it.

Taught by a very enthusiastic, earnest, I-spend-a-lot-of-time-in-nature guy, the class finally began. It was split into two parts: learning safety measures while still planted firmly and squarely on the ground, and climbing. We would each learn how to climb and how to belay (a.k.a. hold the safety ropes).

As we learned how to initially strap ourselves into the safety harness, my suspicions were confirmed - a rock climbing harness is, in fact, the least sexy piece of equipment that a human can put on. And yes, gentlemen, it is worse on you. Your junk bunched up, gathered, and triangulated by cloth straps - not hot. Although to be fair, risk of cameltoe - also not hot.

Once strapped in, we got a lesson in knot tying - as both a climber and a belayer - and practiced belaying with a partner before anyone was allowed to go up the wall.

My partner, a cute, sarcastic redhead named Cassia, and I were equally confused by the act of belaying, in which the person on the ground snakes the rope through their hands with the goal of never, ever letting it drop, because that would send the climber plummeting down to the ground. It's a tricky maneuver, and one with unexpected (and somewhat unwelcome) fitness benefits - my arms were sore after about two minutes of pulling and holding tension on the ropes.

We did practice for a long time, though, and by the time our instructor gave us the green light to begin climbing, I was confident enough that adrenaline would kick in and I would catch the ropes in time, should my partner fall off the wall.

I belayed first, and fortunately didn't have to test that theory. No one was having a hard time getting up to the wall, slapping the ceiling, and rapelling back down.

Based on their relative calm, I was surprised to find that my first climb was nothing short of terrifying. I don't really have a problem with heights, but it's hard (for me, OK??) to hold your shit together when you feel your foot slipping off a two-inch wide foothold and your hand slowly sliding down a perfectly round and smooth bump. I did make it to the top, if only to save face.

My second climb went a lot better, possibly in part because I felt like I needed to prove something to my classmates who continued to scramble up the wall like they were running from a fire.

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So I scrambled too, scared as I was - but when I hit the top the second time, I realized that the scramble itself allows you to forget what you're doing and just climb. I was gaining wisdom...

By the end, my arms were sore, my legs were sore, I was out of breath - and that was from going up just two times. Cassia made the accurate call that there is something of a "Woah dude" culture going on at the gym - lots of beanies, the frequent exchange of "bro," many an unkempt head of hair - but overall a great workout.

Signing up for the intro class series gets you a month membership too, to come in whenever you want as long as you pass a "belay test." Seems like it's worth the money... just don't let those hard-hitting Dads intimidate you.

Overall Workout: 6 on a scale of 1-10 (for the intro class...I'm sure it gets a loooot higher than that)
Hobby-Developing Potential: High, if you like that subculture thing
Next-Day Pain: Moderate
Cost: $45.00 for one intro class, $99 for the series of three. One intro class includes one week's membership, and the series includes one month's membership

Photo by Terretta via Flickr

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