Rock climb your way to a fit body and mind
Carefully, painstakingly, Ryan Fischer, facility manager for Hoosier Heights in Carmel, makes his way up the facility’s central wall. The sprawling construct soars 40 feet high, nearly to the top of the warehouse ceiling, and features more oblique angles than a Picasso painting.
As he climbs up one of the most challenging ascents, he stretches his body in odd directions, solving a three-dimensional mental and physical puzzle in real time. Down below, front desk staffer Lillian Grosz feeds safety rope through a grigri, a self-locking belay device, to keep him protected in the event of a fall. Once he reaches the top, she releases the grigri’s lock to sail him down in a controlled descent.
The rock walls at Hoosier Heights present an unusual but rewarding challenge for anyone who wants to make the ascent, from absolute beginners to seasoned experts.
“Rock climbing is a full-body workout,” Fischer says. “You’re using muscles you don’t normally use in your forearms and your hands, and developing the mental acuity that’s required to climb.”
It takes mojo and some moola
All-day climbing at Hoosier Heights costs between $10 and $20, depending on whether you’re using roped or low-height bouldering walls, and includes safety equipment. It costs another $4 to rent rock shoes.
The different options at Hoosier Heights resemble a crazy quilt of possibilities — low walls with difficult holds, tall flat walls, a “snake” that turns the climber nearly upside down at the highest point, and that epic-scale central wall.
The place presents an ever-changing set of challenges, as they constantly switch hand-hold positions and mark challenging new routes with color-coded tape. Watching the staff float and scurry across the walls, one might envision an aerial ballet.
Conquer the mental and the physical
Rock climbing tends to be a partnered sport, with one handling the belay rope as the other climbs. Participants seeking a solo challenge can try their hand at bouldering — low-wall routes, usually 6 to 8 feet off the ground, without using ropes and relying on ground padding for safety. A few walls also feature auto-belays, which automatically retract in the event of a fall.
Fischer says a great deal of the sport is mental, especially on advanced challenges.
“You get into the mental space of trying to get the route on the first try,” he says. “When you use a problem on the wall, you spend a lot more time on the ground looking up at it trying to figure out the moves before you ever put your hands on the wall.”
Fischer’s most important advice? Keep safe. After that? Use your legs.
“People think climbing is an upper-body sport, but it’s a full-body activity,” he says. “The more you use your legs, the better you’ll be. Think about how many pullups you can do compared to how many squats you can do. We teach new climbers how to use their legs properly to engage the holds and save the hands and arms for later on in the climb.”
Bring the whole family
He says his favorite part of rock-climbing is community. “The challenges an experienced climbers faces are not that much different on a sliding scale as a brand-new climber might face,” he says. “You can have a beginner standing next to a climber who’s been doing it half his life and they can have a shared experience.”
The shared experience provides ideal opportunities for families and couples. “We’ve seen kids as young as 3 and people in their 70s climbing here,” Fischer says. “It’s for everyone and all body types. The challenges are always changing. A husband, wife and kids can have a great shared experience.”