Rock Climbing Granny

4 years ago
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Not me  -- yet! 

I started rock climbing when I was 43. Yes. Started. 43.  

It all began with gymnastics.  

I had been a competitive gymnast in high school and college, first becoming interested when I saw Olga Korbut in the Munich Olympics. But I didn’t start training until after the Montreal Olympics, when Nadia Comaneci had a big influence on my sister, who also became a gymnast. 

From gymnastics, I moved into a year of springboard diving, then 10 years of body building and weight training, winning a couple of trophies for Women’s Competitive Body Building. I also did yoga for a number of years (still do on occasion).

Bored with weight training and the "regular" gym environment, I checked out a climbing gym, and from my first climb, I WAS HOOKED!

Natural progression.  

It felt like a natural transition from my previous background, and I still had good upper body strength. I’ve always been afraid of heights, but when I’m on the wall, roped in with a good belay partner, I don’t worry too much. That’s not to say that when I first started, I wouldn’t get the occasional panic attack, but I would stop, not look down, catch my breath and remind myself I was on a rope and safe.

woman climber 

{photo: Touchstone Climbing}


(No, that's not me above. I don't have any good pics of me in the gym, and the pics of me outdoor climbing are currently on a computer I can't access easily in storage. Will post some when we move into our new house and get things out of storage.)

I never really get panic attacks anymore, but I still get nervous on a climb with a possible “big swing.” That is, if I fall, I will swing far away from the wall. This is because I am on a single rope, not two like a playground swing set. So if I have a big swing on a single rope, I will twist in the wind and have way less control of my swing back into the wall. 

You always want to swing back into the wall feet first, NOT head first! I don’t wear a helmet in the gym, and I occasionally wear one when climbing outdoors. Depends on the climb, pitch, angle, etc. (read: is there a possiblity that I could smack my head on a rock?) I have done some outdoor, and I am planning on doing more in the Spring.

Thinking person's sport.  

Climbing is one of my passions because it involves a lot of thinking and strategizing. No two people climb a route exactly the same way. The main factors involved in how someone does a climb are size, strength and flexibility. If you are taller, you will have a longer reach. If you are stronger, you can muscle you way over an overhang. If you are flexible, you can stretch across to a far hold more easily. 

Good technique is a female climber's best friend. Most women lack good upper body strength, at least at the beginning, but proper technique makes climbing much easier--and more fun. Technique is learned from watching other climbers and asking a lot of questions, then trying out different things to see what works for you, For instance, I am small, but flexible. I am relatively strong in my upper body, but I can’t do pull ups forever. I can curl up under a “roof” that a larger person cannot fit in.

Good belay partners are crucial.   

The hardest part about climbing for me has been finding consistent good partners for top roping. When you're literally putting your life in someone else's hands, you've got to feel comfortable doing so. Climbing with someone about your own level or higher is also also good -- you can push each other.

I have been climbing for about 9 years total now. I took a short break because of time, finances and lack of partners, but have been back into it for about a year. Yay! Over the years, partners have moved away, had children, gotten injured, etc.

Fortunately there are social groups like MeetUp and I have found a couple of good groups that meet regularly each week. I would still like to find a regular partner so I can climb on other days that the groups don’t meet, but I keep forgetting to exchange info! Oops. Duh. My bad. But I guess I haven't bothered, since I usually see them again.

Adrenaline junkie.   

When I complete a difficult climb, there’s nothing like that rush and incredible feeling of accomplishment! I have worked my way up to the indoor rating of 5.11’s, which is advanced. The ratings system at my gym starts at 5.3 - 5.9, then goes to 5.10a,b,c,d, then 5.11a,b,c, a few 12.a's, and the occasional 13.a. 

Outdoor climbing ratings are different. The climbs with the same number as indoors tend to be more difficult. I don’t know that much about the outdoor rating system, but you can find more info here and here.

Outdoors vs. indoors.  

Outdoors is a whole ’nother ballgame. I’ll get there more eventually, but for now I enjoy and get enough challenge from mostly indoors. Some climbers have the mindset that only outdoor climbing is "real" rock climbing, but indoor gyms are a good way to gain skills and confidence and stay in shape in the off-season (Winter). There’s even competitions.  

And climbing isn’t just for young people. There are many climbers in the gym, both female and male who are older. I’ve even seen pregnant women climbing in a special harness, although you should check with your doctor before attempting this, even if you are an experienced climber.

Girls just wanna have fun.  

Still, I love seeing young girls in the gym. Doing this sport can give them confidence for their lives outside the gym in so many ways as well as make them healthy and strong! Check out these kid phenoms here and here.

Rock Climbin' Granny.   

I’ve out climbed both men and women who are much younger, but less experienced. I’ve had time to practice and hone my skills and confidence. One of my early partners and good friend once said she intended to keep climbing well into old age, “I’m going to be a rock climbin’ granny!” Yes indeed. Barring injury, there’s no reason why that can’t happen. I’m going to be one too!  What passion have you discovered recently? Share in the comments below!

Ciao! Paula

See my updated post at  That Was Then | This Is Wow

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