Episode IV: A New Rope (Climbing)

As a special end-of-school treat, Robert took James on an overnight expedition to The Climbing Place, an indoor rock-climbing gym in Fayetteville, NC. James had previously done a little indoor climbing at Jungle Rapids in Wilmington, but the facilities there are limited and expensive.

As you can see, the facilities at The Climbing Place are extensive (click on any image to see a large version) and it's inexpensive. An adult can climb all day for about $15.00 (including all equipment; children under 10 are a little cheaper. This is a VERY kid-friendly place, with climbing routes for all levels of ability. They claim to take everyone from toddlers to great-grandmothers!

The staff at The Climbing Place, lead by owner Michael Pinkston (shown in the final photo above, note the “stealth climber” in the background), are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Michael ran us through a “Belay Check”, showing us how to use the equipment properly.

Belaying is the term for safeguarding a climber so that if he falls, he is caught by a rope and can be safely lowered. The climber ties his harness into the rope using a double figure-8 knot as well as a safety fisherman's knot – Michael was impressed when James was able to learn these knots almost immediately, and for the rest of our visit, James tied himself in to the ropes without error (a paranoid father did check up on him, of course!).

The Belayer clips his or her harness into a safety line attached to the floor, then threads the rope into a simple Belay device and attaches both to his harness using a carabiner (an O-shaped metal connector with a locking gate that can be opened). The reason for the safety line is so that even if the climber weighs more than the belayer, the belayer can keep control; it locks him or her to the ground. As the climber ascends, the belayer takes up the slack. If the rope coming in and out of the belay device are lined up, the rope moves freely, but by simply moving the right hand down and seperating the two ropes, one can radically increase the friction on the rope and lock the climber in place, then gently lower him. It's really pretty cool. You can find lots of technical information about how this all works here.

Here we see James warming up on one of several small kid-walls in the gym. As these are low to the ground, no ropes are required. Solving climbing “problems” that are close to the ground and do not require ropes is called “bouldering”. James spent quite a bit of time on this section practicing his moves, often doing complete loops around.

After doing some bouldering and polishing off some simple vertical walls which required ropework, James came up against his nemesis. This was a vertical wall with a negative ledge – getting over the ledge required getting the feet up to just underneath it (the little blue rock just under the ledge) and then standing up while moving the hands. He came “unstuck” several times before we decided to give it a rest. The funny thing hanging off his butt is a chalk-bag; climbers use chalk to keep their hands dry and improve their grip. They can just reach behind and dip their hands anytime they feel the need.

Of course Robert, with his longer legs, had a much easier time of this one.

All the personal training Robert has been enduring came in handy when he decided to try one of the intermediate climbs in the gym. You'll notice that the rope is going through two loops with carabiners on them. When you get to the part of the wall where it goes horizontal, you have to open the carabiner and remove the rope. If you fall at that point (and it's a grab for the white rock with the green tape attached!), you do a real big swing. The rocks on the horizontal sections have underhangs on them you can grab onto, and you use your feet and hands against each other to stay glued.

You may be asking yourself, “how do they get the rope back into the carabiner at the top of the wall so the next guy can climb safely?” Well, that's a secret I won't reveal – go and find out yourself!

Robert also tried a nasty overhang. The black stuff on the floor is actually ground-up old tires, very nice to land in. This area is used for both top-roping and bouldering; you can have a lot of fun (and fear!) 1 foot off the ground, let me tell you. In case you are wondering, the colored stickers and tape next to the rocks mark different routes. If you want to do a route, you can only use rocks marked the same way as handholds.

I only got a chance to try this wall once, and I came off going for the white rock directly above me in the top third.

And finally, remember the ledge that he had problems with? Later in the afternoon, we went back to it and he tried again. His first two attempts, he came unstuck again. Robert arrested him with the belay device so he could reattach to the wall and try it again. Third time was a charm, and up he went. But Robert forgot to take a photo, so he had to climb the whole wall again. What a rat!

Of course, now that he knew he could do it, he just swarmed up the wall like Spiderman, and blew past the ledge like it wasn't there. Way to go, James!

Our thanks to the staff (and patrons) of The Climbing Place. You can call them at 910-486-9638, or email them at theclimbingplace@aol.com.