It took six months and a lot of wheedling, but I finally went rock climbing in Davis. In high school and college I did water sports–swimming, water polo, and crew–so I always had something at least as solid as water underneath me, and I felt right at home. When hanging more than 30 feet in the air, my arms trembling and my fingers beginning to sweat and cramp, I do not feel at home. Nevertheless, I gave into my boyfriend Kevin’s wheedling because I needed something to say yes to this week, and you know what? It was fun!
Kevin is a member of Rocknasium, one of the first indoor climbing gyms in the country and a community staple of Davis for the past 20 years. Located on Olive Drive, just past Redrum Burger, Rocknasium has 8,000 square feet of soaring slabs, overhangs and arches to climb. The co-owners, Carter Schmeck and Mark Leffler, have created a friendly space for beginners (me!) and experts, and Carter explained to me that they strive for an atmosphere of welcomeness and support, and that it has such a strong sense of community because the staff are people who climbed there when they were kids and many of the patrons are second generation patrons.
When Kevin and I arrived, we first checked out the progress on the new gym that Rocknasium is opening in early September. The new gym, designed and engineered by Vertical Solutions, will be 1,200 square feet larger than the original gym and will include a yoga studio.
We got the private tour from Carter and the head route setter, Boz (he chooses where the “holds” will go to create the different routes that people can climb), and their enthusiasm for the new space and the pure joy that they took just from being in it were obvious as they walked us around the space, pointing out the slight angles and twists to the walls that will make routes that much more challenging, the 35,000 lbs of steel used to hold up the plywood walls, and the 20,000 holes in the plywood, waiting to be filled with holds. Even though I know nothing about rock gyms, this one looked pretty sweet.
Kevin and I then headed over to the original gym, just a few doors down from the new one, to do some climbing. I rented some shoes–climbing shoes are so tight! I felt like I was a ballet dancer or a woman in China in the 1700s!–and we got started. At climbing gyms, you can climb wherever you want, but most people challenge themselves by choosing routes, which are paths that have been set up by someone like Boz. Colored tape marks the holds that you are allowed to use when you are doing that specific route.
We started out “boldering,” which is climbing without a rope to only a certain height. Kevin picked out an easy route to start me off, an A2 circuit problem, and I made it with only a little bit of help from him below. Next, though, he chose for me an “8 top rope,” so that we had to attach the ropes that hang from the ceiling to our harnesses because I was climbing all the way to the top. It was intimidating at first, especially because I’m not used to looking for holds for my feet and hands, and I was very slow so that my arms got tired as I clung to the wall, looking for my next move. When I finally made it to the top, I leaned back and Kevin lowered me to the ground, which was the most fun part.
Kevin then taught me how to belay him, which was also nerve racking because you have someone’s life (or at least the tenacity of their bones) in your hands, literally. The belayer is the person who takes in the slack of the person climbing, catches them if they fall, and slowly lowers them after they reach the top. I did OK though, and after his third climb, I was feeling pretty comfortable. By this point my hands felt raw, my fingers and toes cramped, and my forearms were so full of lactic acid that I couldn’t curl my fingers. Kevin challenged me to do one more climb, another 8 top rope, but on an overhang this time. I got about halfway up the wall and my arms decided they had had enough, so Kevin lowered me back down. All in all, though, I felt like it was a pretty successful first climbing experience.
Rocknasium is open Monday-Friday 11 am-11 pm, Saturdays from 10 am-9 pm and Sundays from 10 am-6 pm. They have daily rates, monthly memberships, and discounts for students. They run summer camps all summer long, and on Tuesday nights they host a potluck for anyone who wants to come. Check them out at www.rocknasium.com!