Climbing around Chicago

By: hollylau - September 14, 2006

Climbing 101

So you've seen it on Mission Impossible II, or at LPAC on your way home from the train, and the question remains, how do I get started on rock climbing?

Two of the most common fears that prohibit one from even attempting to climb I've heard are fear of height and fear of having no upper body strength. Neither is truly justified. Once you understand the safety equipment and procedures, you will develop confidence and can then focus on making your way up rather than staring down. And if you look at most outstanding climbers, they tend to be lanky, wiry boys and girls who by no means look like they've been pumping iron or shooting up steroids. Succeeding in climbing has much to do with balance.
It is a great workout for the reason that your entire body, down to your pinky fingers and toes, is involved in positioning and coordinating your strength.
In addition to toning and overall training, many climbers also enjoy the sport for the chance to get outdoors and enjoy nature in a very hands-on way.

You can get started right away at several climbing walls here in Chicago. Two of the most popular are at Lakeshore Athletic Club (211 N. Stetson) with 100-ft of overhang, slab, and artificial features and Lincoln Park Athletic Club (1019 W. Diversey) which is outdoor (makes for a pleasant, sunny Saturday afternoon). Both gyms offer orientation and group and individual classes. More serious climbers often venture out to the suburbs to Upper Limits (1304 West Washington, Bloomington), Climb On (18120 Harwood Ave., Homewood), and Vertical Endeavors (28141 Diehl Road, Warrenville).

Once you get to the wall, you will hear climbers mention are 5.9a or 5.11a routes or other weird climber-talk. It's really not that complicated. Most routes, which on the wall will be marked by different colored ribbons or tape, are rated from a scale of 5.6-5.12 (there are about a handful of people in the world who are 5.14 climbers, but they do exist). Most beginning climbers after a few lessons or attempts can make it up a 5.6. Intermediate climbers like myself who have tried this for a year or so can complete a 5.8 with ease and struggle through a 5.9+ or 5.10- (sometimes climbers further differentiate a grade by a, b, c, d, such as 5.10a, a being the easiest, and d the most difficult). 5.10 and up climbers are generally more advance not only in their strength but the techniques of "cutting" through rocks.

After you have built some solid climbing skills at the gym, you might wish to benefit from what the great outdoors has to offer. There are several sites that are of driveable distance available to us here in the Midwest. Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, Jackson Falls in Marion, Illinois, and Red River Gorge, Kentucky are among the favorites.

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