My first time climbing was outside on real rock, and I learned to climb and belay. Like most folks learning to belay, it was awkward at first but once you get the motion down, it’s pretty simple.
As soon as I got back home (to the east coast) I did what everyone else does after a trip…I went back to work. And it was a few weeks before I got back climbing. In that few weeks, I forgot a fair amount of what I learned, particularly knots and belaying. So, I found the local indoor climbing gym (it was winter, after all) and signed up for the beginner class.
I headed out there one night after work, and it was myself and 6 other people. I had my own gear, so I didn’t need to use the loaner-stuff they provided. First off, learn the gear (check…good on that front). Second, learn the knots (took me a few times to remember the damn figure-eight retrace now, but…check, good to go). Third, learn to belay. I was that same beginner again for a few minutes, surely I looked ridiculous putting the motions together. But, I pretty quickly remembered the sequence and was back in the saddle. From then on that night, I was solid.
This particular gym has two locations in my area of the state and it’s the “premier” (read: the only)
indoor gym in the area. Don’t get me wrong, the place is nice- a converted warehouse with lots of climbing areas, bouldering section, a small gym, pro shop, etc. Essentially what I would have imagine the place to look like.
Unfortunately, the instructor that night left a fair amount to be desired. She was nice, certainly, but it was pretty clear that she didn’t really care about her task at hand, i.e. the faster she teaches the class the sooner she can be done and go home. This did pretty well to sour me on the gym as a whole. It’s really not fair to judge the place by this one interaction with one of their staff, but it is what it is. Now, though, my issue has morphed.
After that indoor class, I didn’t climb for a while. I’ll blame my daughter, wife, work, and all the other factors that make up real life (including my own laziness) for my lack of climbing for a number of months. It took a while, but I finally reversed course and decided to get back to it.
But….I had a problem. First, it’s been a while now, so my ability to belay and knot effectively is probably (definitely) rusty. Second, I have no partner. With that, I discovered auto-belays.
Using magnets to keep an appropriate amount of slack on the rope, an auto-belay allows you to hook on at the bottom, climb up, and then push off and repel down. This whole setup means that 1) no partner needed and 2) no knots needed. Not at all ideal for learning either belaying or knots, but certainly ideal for someone with no partner that just wants to climb. The problem of course is finding a gym that has these auto-belays. After a recall in 2005, they seem to be deployed in fewer and fewer places.
But, I found one. A local gym (small, old, and relatively run down) built themselves a small climbing area complete with multiple auto-belays. Score! I had a place to climb!
There are only 8 walls/routes/ropes, and they range from “easy” to “hard” (no real rating). They don’t seem to move the holds often (if at all), and the walls certainly aren’t high. But, it’s a place to climb on my own.
The membership fees are exorbitant at this gym, but luckily a non-member can use the facility for $14 p/use. That’s manageable since I’m climbing once a week right now. And it’s worked well thus far.
But I want something bigger, more of a challenge. So I worked to find another place around here with auto-belays. And wouldn’t you know it, I found one literally miles from my house. I checked this place out, and it was stunning. The gym itself was brand new and huge, everything was top of the line. Most importantly, they had a climbing area that was huge, beautiful, empty (i.e. not busy), with lead routes and multiple auto-belays. This was awesome!
It was closer to my house, a beautiful facility, and though smaller, was as nice and as well setup as the local climbing gym. The downside? The cost to climb as a non-member is $40 a pop. $40!!! The membership fees are also ridiculously high. So, despite the stellar find, it wasn’t going to work for me. It was extremely disappointing.
Thus for the time being, I will continue to use the auto-belays at the current club. I am actively seeking a climbing partner at the local climbing gym, so hopefully I can get in there and climb.