Gym Now, Crag Later

Fall Special: The Indoor Climber's Guide to Gear, Training, and Access

THE SCENE ON 450-FOOT CATHEDRAL LEDGE in North Conway, New Hampshire, is a veritable lifestyle commercial: English-lit-crit guys in beards and wire-rim glasses belay their athletic sports-bra-clad girlfriends. Smart-aleck instructors merrily toss insults back and forth while dangling 300 feet off the deck. What appear to be entire families dally at the base of other routes, fussing with gear and chomping on peanut-butter sandwiches. In a sport known for withering assaults on Asian monoliths and catalog images featuring sinewy, fearless phenoms, here we have mere humans. It's adventure without insanity. Rock climbing's answer to jogging.

Such a crowd isn't atypical. Crags across the continent are hosting growing populations of beginner and intermediate climbers—thanks in large part to the proliferation of indoor climbing gyms enlightening droves of would-be Spidermen. (There are now an estimated 500 gyms nationwide, up from 200 in 1997, according to the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America.) Once the domain of ascetics and thrill-seekers, indoor climbing gyms now find minivan owners and their towheaded shorties tying in next to young adults bored with Spinning, empty-nesters with dusty NordicTracks, and singles on the prowl. And why not? After all, it's fun—trampoline-style, kid-again fun.

Not to play the rust inspector at the Tilt-A-Whirl, but fun is also becoming the great liability of indoor climbing. Learning the ropes takes time, something in which too many novices fail to invest before they step out on a real ledge. "We saw, and still see, people doing so many things that are so dangerous when they go outside, mostly because they left the gym with a false sense of security," says Peter Lewis, a mountaineering guide for the Eastern Mountain Sports climbing school and coauthor (with Dan Cauthorn) of the just-released Climbing: From Gym to Crag—Building Skills for Real Rock (Mountaineers Books).

Lewis earns his lunch money guiding at Cathedral Ledge. After showing me a hoot of a time on a local indoor wall, he has hauled me—an eager novice—75 feet up a slab of granite to point out the not-so-obvious: Climbing outside is very different from climbing inside. Having spent the last 20 minutes scrambling up the rock face, I now stand on a tiny ledge next to Lewis. Several stiff gusts threaten to knock me from my perch (I'm tied in, but somehow it's not that reassuring). I'm acutely aware that there is no permanently affixed top rope, no ascending hashes of colored tape denoting the route, no bolted-on plastic holds to grab. "You can get comfortable on a gym wall, learn a few routes with a difficulty level of 5.9 or 5.10, and decide you're ready to head outside," says Lewis. "Do that, though, and a 5.3 on the outside will have you wetting your pants."

To avoid that sorry predicament, here's a jug-hold-size piece of advice: This winter, head to your nearest indoor climbing gym, and use it for something other than an all-purpose place to goof off. Instead of thrashing at the hardest tape-marked route until you become bored, demoralized, or worse—injured—try this instead: Develop a workout. Come spring, your forearms will last longer, you'll high-step more confidently, and you'll be less prone to injury. We'll help you along with training and technique tips, plus advice on hot new climbing gear, including liquid chalk and shoes that grip like talons. Add a mandatory course of qualified professional instruction on setting anchors and leading climbs, and in a few short months you'll be ready to rock where the view is better and they don't charge by the day. And that, in case you've forgotten, was the whole reason behind indoor gyms in the first place.


Shoes
Strength/Endurance
Harness Power
Chalk Talk
Five Great Indoor Gyms
Build Your Own Wall at Home

Staying Power

Lasting longer, climbing stronger

"Training for climbing is actually a fairly new phenomenon," says Chris Wall, head instructor at the Boulder Rock School and certified personal trainer to climbers. "But because indoor climbing (as training) can be so fun, it's easy to overdo it and become injured. That's why you need to treat it like a weight regimen. Schedule work days and rest days. Come in, warm up, do your program, and leave."

Chances are you already know some climbing basics: Use your legs and feet, not just your arms; keep your hips close to the wall and your eyes on your foot placements; move with short, precise steps. These skills will generally keep you from looking like a suburban dad scaling a fence to chase kids out of his yard. But the following exercises will help you add strength and endurance—the keys to good technique. Combine structure with variety by alternating the emphasis every three weeks—the first three on endurance, the next three on strength; the exercises that follow are a few good examples of things to include in your workout, while technique should be a constant part of this routine. Aim for three days a week, an hour a day with breaks, or until your skill level begins to deteriorate during a session, making you prone to injury. If you can't pick up where you left off in the previous workout, you're probably not fully recovered; try switching your type of training, or give yourself another rest day.

Strength and Endurance

Warming up

"It's easy to get hurt at a gym because you didn't earn your way here by hiking two miles from the road to the base of a cliff," says Lewis, coauthor of From Gym to Crag. A good workout begins with a short run or 20 minutes on the stair climber, five minutes of sit-ups, and some easy traversing. Also, take care to rotate your arms, elbows, wrists, hips, legs, knees, and ankles through their full range of motion—slowly and precisely—as many times as your age. You'll avoid the dreaded flash pump—an Incredible Hulk-like engorging of your forearms with blood, rendering them useless. "A flash pump can shoot you down for an hour or so, and most people only have an hour," Lewis points out.

Strength

The opposite of endurance laps, training for strength is hard and brief, and may entail spending only 30 seconds on a difficult boulder problem or climbing once up a pumpy route in small increments with long rests. Don't be ashamed to rest, or "hang-dog," while on the climb. Variations: Start with a moderate route, and then hop on increasingly easier routes; as you become tired, the difficulty level will feel the same. Or, grab a partner, get on the bouldering wall, spot her a three-second lead, and play tag.

Conditioning for strength and power can be a delicate seesaw. Climbing mostly builds muscles that pull (forearms, lats, trapezoids, biceps) while demanding less of those that push (shoulders, pectorals, triceps). Moreover, muscles strengthen far more quickly than tendons, which can be prone to injury. To counter these potential imbalances, incorporate weightlifting exercises such as bench presses, shoulder presses, triceps presses, and flies.

Endurance

Stamina is essential for handling the unpredictability of climbing outdoors--nasty weather, getting off route, etc. But gyms are predictable environments (central heating!), thus making them ideal places to build real endurance. Think of the wall as a kind of vertical treadmill on which you'll lay out continuous ascents and descents. The key is to find an easy route with large, juggy holds (they feel like suitcase handles). The route may be several levels below your ability, but that's the point. Tie in, climb to the top, have your partner lower you to the floor, but without touching down begin climbing again. Aim for five laps over 30 minutes, or until you attain a slow, deep-muscle pump. Advanced variation: Climb down instead of being lowered.

Technique

Resting

Hanging with your arm straight, rather than with your elbow bent at 90 degrees, transfers the work from your muscles to your bones. Practice moving through difficult sections of the route smoothly but continuously, and then pause where you can comfortably drop an arm. Corners and big footholds are great opportunities to hold a stance, lean your shoulders into the wall and shake out both arms. A lock off—a power position where you bring your hand up to your shoulder, taking the weight off your biceps and utilizing the pectoral muscles—is also a key rest position.

Stemming

This involves extending an arm or a leg, or both, out to push against an adjacent surface. By applying counterpressure at opposing surfaces, such as in a corner, a chimney, or between two large holds, you transfer the force from your muscles to your skeleton. Stemming can offer an excellent rest, and also affords you stability in spans where the footholds are suddenly much smaller than they appeared in the brochure.

Jamming

Not all rock gyms have crack climbs, but those that do offer the opportunity to practice jamming, an essential skill on outdoor cracks. Wedge your foot in at a slight angle until it sticks, turn for torque, and stand. This can be done with both feet, as well as hands (the lower hand works the crack with the thumb up, the upper hand the reverse), so that you ascend the crack entirely by jamming. You might also jam with your hands while using footholds outside of the crack.

Smearing

Given a relatively modest incline, friction between shoe and rock can keep you planted right where you need to be. The key to smearing--pasting the toe and ball of the sole directly onto the wall--is to pull your hips out from the route, directing the force into the rock rather than straight down. Be precise, applying smooth, easy pressure as you weight the smeared foot. Now relax and trust those shoes.

Games

"One of the problems with indoor climbing and bouldering walls is that there are so many holds it's easy to lose focus," says Lewis. "There are no limitations, unlike outdoors, where they exist everywhere. So it's up to you to impose artificial limitations." Lewis recommends climbing blindfolded, with your partner pointing out your next step (a great way to build balance). Or smear-only climbing. Or eliminating one hold each time you do a lap. Or playing Simon Says, with your partner directing you into pretzels. "You'll develop a repertoire of skills you might have overlooked, and which you may need on the outside," says Lewis.


RESOURCES FOR MAKING THE TRANSITION OUTDOORS

In addition to From Gym to Crag, aspiring rock jocks can check out Freedom of the Hills (Mountaineers Books), How to Rock Climb! (FalconGuide), and The Complete Idiot's Guide: Rock Climbing (Complete Idiot's Guides), some of the best basic books available.


Ten Shoes with Serious Grip

WHEN GEARING UP for the gym, there's no decision you'll agonize over more than your choice of climbing shoe. And we do mean agonize. For optimal performance, a rock shoe must fit as snugly as shrink-wrap on a pork loin. The seal should cup the Achilles tendon firmly, bracing the heel while buckling the ball of your foot up and torquing your toes down. This contortion keeps your foot compact and stiff, enabling you to exploit minute variations in the climbing wall without twisting off the hold. Unfortunately, it feels only slightly better than wedging your dogs into a wood chipper.

To get the effect you want, request shoes at least one to one and a half sizes below that of your streetwear. Beginners, however, get a small break: Until the muscles of your feet have been strengthened by six months of regular climbing, you need to avoid cramp-inducing slip-ons with newspaper-thin soles, and instead go with an inexpensive lace-up with a stiffer, more supportive mold. For experienced climbers, the range of options is huge. There are shoes with Velcro closure systems, shoes with stretch-neoprene openings, and shoes with nylon midsole stiffeners to increase edge-holding power without losing flexibility.

Whether you're a novice in the market for inexpensive lace-up support, or a veteran looking for the new steep-climbing sensation, the ten shoes we've reviewed will get you up and down the wall with aplomb. Just remember: Rock shoes are gear, not bedroom slippers. If they feel comfy in the store, they'll be worthless on the wall.

Beginner

La Sportiva, Cliff
($100; 303-443-8710; www.sportiva.com)
Testing your climbing prowess for the first time? The Cliff's thick Vibram bottom and suede upper offer enough support to let you stand on the tiniest of edges without yelping in pain. Built with a strip of flexible material along the eyelets that prevents the upper from overstretching—a common problem for heavier climbers—the slim midsole and low-cut heel provide the flexibility and dexterity you need to maneuver your toesin awkward places. The Cliff's relatively low-volume fit, however, makes it a bad choice for those with high insteps.

Lighter climbers should try Boreal's Diablo ($108; 949-498-1011 ). More flexible than the Cliff, the Diablo boasts a relatively supple fiberboard midsole and a forgiving upper fashioned from split-hide leather. The Diablo's sensitive sole is better at molding to the shapes of footholds, and it grips well when smearing (using friction with the ball of the foot to gain purchase).

Intermediate to Advanced

Red Chili, Dos Equis
($125; 603-356-5590; www.redchili.de)
Between climbs at the gym, you'll find yourself standing around belaying a friend, eyeing new routes, or chatting up an attractive visitor in skintight Lycra (we strongly advise against attempting all three at the same time). In any case, you'll have trouble concentrating (read: workin' it) when your feet are trussed up in agony—that's where the Dos Equis from Red Chili comes in. For instant relief, simply peel back the Velcro closure tabs and whip off the shoe. The Dos Equis, which is especially suitable for wide feet, also features a soft nylon midsole—for additional forefoot support when you're perched on a wafer-thin edge. Although pliant enough for smearing, the Dos Equis has ample strength to support intermediate climbers balancing on even the tiniest of divots.

For a narrower-fitting Velcro shoe with similar performance, think La Sportiva's Mistral ($140; 303-443-8710; www.sportiva.com). Though expensive, the Mistral creates a lock-tight fit with a flexible synthetic leather lining arranged in a patchwork pattern on the back half of the shoe.

Scarpa, Minima
($100; 801-278-5552; www.bdel.com)
Designed for advanced climbers, the Minima is an excellent choice for training and bouldering. To don this skintight slipper for the first time, though, you'll need to intern with a Chinese foot binder. Step one: Ram your thumbs under the elastic tongue while jamming your toes forward and plopping your Achilles into the heel cup. Step two: Wince. Give it time, though. In two weeks the leather will stretch a bit, and you'll be yanking it on and off like a sock. The Minima handles everything but the most painful heel-lockers dreamed up by sadistic route setters.

For another high-performance slipper, check out the Terabyte from Climbingshoes.com ($80; 888-899-7625; www.climbingshoes.com. This narrow shoe edges as well as the Minima, but is available only by mail order, phone, or via the Internet—an arrangement the Massachusetts-based company uses to keep down costs.

Five Ten, Women's Zlipper
($112; 909-798-4222; www.fiveten.com)
Women constitute 32 percent of the rock-climbing scene. In the early years, women enduring the loose-fitting heels and painfully high, Achilles-digging support typical of men's models was the norm. No more: Designed for the slimmer female foot, the narrow Zlipper has an amplified instep and a smaller heel cup. The Zlipper also has a zipper—it's the only climbing shoe that does—allowing for quick relief. (A strip of Lycra prevents the zipper from riding next to your skin.) And thanks to a narrow fiberboard midsole curving under the toes, the shoe stands up on edges with ease.

The Zlipper is also available in a men's version, which has all the performance of the women's, plus a synthetic leather upper that resists stretching. Both shoes have soles made with Stealth, Five Ten's proprietary sticky rubber.

Expert

Boreal, Matrix
($128; 949-498-1011)
Call it a surgical glove for your foot: Unlined, with an ultrathin, three-millimeter sole of sticky rubber, the Matrix is as supple as a climbing shoe can get. Grab and pull with your feet on severely overhanging gym routes, or ram your toes into crevices like a second set of fingers. The synthetic leather upper is comfortable, yet doesn't stretch much over time. The same sensitivity that works so well on overhanging artificial caves, however, can make the shoe unbearable on the small, sharp edges of an outdoor rock face.

If you're the kind who'd climb in bare feet if not for bloody toes, La Sportiva's Mantra ($136; 303-443-8710; www.sportiva.com) is the answer. This synthetic-leather, slip-on shoe has an elastic, heel-wrapping rand that secures your foot lengthwise. The two-millimeter rubber sole is the thinnest on the market, offering an all but imaginary line of protection between your feet and the wall. It's like dipping your feet in rubber. 

The Harness, Deconstructed

1. Waist Belt and Buckle
If the waist belt on your harness hasn't been cinched tightly and doubled back through the buckle, you might as well be roped in to your Speedo—if you fall, the rope will catch the harness, but you'll keep going. Since a harness should be safe and comfortable, here are two things to keep in mind: First, the buckle should be easy to thread; look for small tabs that help spread the two plates apart when doubling back, or a design that automatically cinches the waist belt when it's weighted. Second, firm closed-cell foam inside the belt is better than squishy foam because it rebounds better over time. Look for soft wicking materials in areas that make contact with your skin, and a belt that's wider at the back and tapered toward the front so as not to dig into the hips.

2. Belay Loop
This simple loop of webbing makes belaying clean and manageable by holding the master carabiner away from your tie-in point. Although some belay loops are made with reassuringly chunky one-inch webbing, try before you buy. You'll quickly discover that clipping, detaching, and belaying with a locking carabiner are all easier if you have webbing that's narrower, say three-quarter inch.

3. Leg-Loop Stays
Stays keep leg loops from sagging down your legs and dangerously transferring the load to your hips. They also help you tell if your harness is the right size. Here's a quick test: Position the front tie-in point at your navel. The leg-loop stays should now meet at your spine, or—if they join the waist belt at different points—they should be positioned symmetrically on either side of your spine.

4. Leg-Loop Riser and Waist Belt Tie-In
When you're hanging from a harness in the shop, check not only for tightness but also for balance. If the leg loops are too low, the waistbelt will be forced to carry too much weight; too high, and all the loading will be on the legs. A balanced fit—and therefore a safe fit—spreads the load between hips and legs. In addition, check for sturdiness in the leg-loop riser, which receives the greatest wear. The finest harnesses are built with resilient nylon webbing joined by equally rugged bar-tack stitches (look for a line of rounded stitches—the more the better).

5. Leg Loops
When you're hanging in a harness, much of your weight will be on the leg loops. Wide loops—made with broad strips of webbing—are great, though narrower leg loops that have very firm padding can absorb shock just as effectively. Look for a contoured cut that's narrower at the inside to prevent pinching. If you plan on climbing in cold weather wearing additional layers, look for loops with buckles to adjust thigh width (a nice feature that doesn't compromise safety, though you'll pay about $10 extra).

6. Gear Loops
Nylon loops for clipping extra carabiners and attaching equipment like quickdraws and hexes.

IN THE STORE

Test drive the Trango Fly ($50; 800-860-3653; www.trango.com) and the Black Diamond Dyno ($50; 801-278-5552; www.blackdiamondequipment.com)—both comfortable, and moderately priced. For large climbers, the Fly, with its wide leg loops, is a good choice. Cheaper harnesses generally have mushier padding and uncontoured waists. Pricier models have firm, well-sculpted waist belts and leg loops. But with harnesses, fit is everything. Try the harness by hanging from it—better shops are equipped for this. Women, who have longer pelvic rises and narrower waists than men do, generally prefer—duh— women's models, though adjustable leg loops usually work for anyone.

Chalk Talk

Six products to keep you dry and high

PRODUCT
Powdered Chalk

Petzl Magnesium ($3.50 for four ounces; 877-807-3805; www.petzl.com) or Bison Designs Bulk Chalk ($3 for four ounces; 800-536-2476; www.bisondesigns.com)

WHAT IS IT?
Magnesium carbonate—a white, crystalline salt—ground fine as baby powder

HOW IT WORKS
Soaks up sweat, increasing friction between hands and holds

WHERE IT GRIPS
Cheap

WHERE IT SLIPS

Tends to spill from your chalk bag if you don't use a mesh chalk ball like the Xeric Perpetual Ball ($5.50; distributed by Climb High; 802-985-5056; www.climbhigh.com), which dispenses chalk dust evenly when squeezed


PRODUCT
Block Chalk

Endo Block Chalk ($1 for a two-ounce chunk; 310-327-2521; www.frankendo.com) or U.S. Glove Gym Chalk ($1 for a two-ounce block; 800-999-5408; www.usglove.com)

WHAT IS IT?
A brick of magnesium carbonate

HOW IT WORKS
Applied by crumbling small chunks in the palm of the hand

WHERE IT GRIPS
Lasts longer than powder—you pulverize it with your hand, forcing the chalk deep into the creases of the skin. Buy in bulk for a reasonable price.

WHERE IT SLIPS
All that crumbling can be messy—expect to lose a lot and get it all over the place.


PRODUCT
Pro Mag XT Chalk

Distributed by Misty Mountain ($5.50 for an eight-ounce bag; 828-963-6688; www.mistymountain.com)

WHAT IS IT?
A powdered chalk that has been supplemented with magnesium-based drying agents. Comes in either a fine or coarse powder.

HOW IT WORKS
The drying agents absorb any moisture in the chalk and help dry out the skin.

WHERE IT GRIPS
Keeps hands slightly drier than generic chalk

WHERE IT SLIPS
More expensive than plain block chalk. But hey, chalk is cheap.


PRODUCT
Hybrid Chalk
by Climbing Gear ($4.75 for a four-ounce bag and a chalk ball; 703-289-1200; www.contactclimbinggear.com)

WHAT IS IT?
A ball of finely powdered chalk combined with a fume silica drying agent and a powdered antiperspirant

HOW IT WORKS
The drying agent absorbs moisture on the surface of your skin while the antiperspirant contracts your pores.

WHERE IT GRIPS
The most effective antisweat powder for climbing—a little goes a very long way

WHERE IT SLIPS

No refills after you tie the knot: When you run out, you'll have to throw away the old chalk ball and buy a fresh one. So don't tie the knot.


PRODUCT
Magic Chalk

by Vertical Technology ($9 for a nine-ounce bottle; 800-647-0123; www.magicchalk.com)

WHAT IS IT?
A pharmaceutical-grade chalk suspended in alcohol that dries to a fine white coating

HOW IT WORKS
The alcohol enables the fine chalk to thoroughly penetrate wrinkles and pores, and it acts as a solvent, removing sweat and oils.

WHERE IT GRIPS

Fights sweat better than conventional chalk, and stays on the hand longer. Produces less dust than powdered chalk for healthier lungs.

WHERE IT SLIPS
A bit of a hassle. Before climbing, the excess chalk must be dusted off (otherwise it feels silky and slick); you can't reapply it while climbing; and if you use it too often, the alcohol will crack your skin.


PRODUCT
Power Dry
by Sports/Science Inc. ($5 for a two-ounce bottle; 800-322-0688; www.spiinc-tx.com)

WHAT IS IT?

A white liquid with a laundry list of chemicals, including isopropyl alcohol and an antiperspirant, that have been mixed with a variety of solvents

HOW IT WORKS
Antiperspirant for your hands, Power Dry is used with loose chalk or a chalk ball. Applied liberally, it'll last two routes, or numerous bouldering problems.

WHERE IT GRIPS
Unlike other products enhanced with antiperspirant, it feels grippy, not tacky.

WHERE IT SLIPS
Because it was only recently introduced (last January), the long-term effects on the skin, as well as its potential to leave residual buildup on climbing holds, are unknown.

Outside In

Five gyms almost as cool as the real thing

Granite Arch
Rancho Cordova, California
916-852-7625
www.granitearch.com 

THE WALL: A whopping 17,000 square feet of hand-carved terrain with 240 routes, most of them around 5.9. Although the wall tops out in an overhanging arch 36 feet off the floor, the most torturous routes wind up 90 feet.
THE BETA: Sections of the gym mimic the features of Yosemite's cracks, Mexico's rough pockets, and New York's 'Gunk horizontals. Practice placing cams, nuts, and stoppers.
THE CRUX: $12 a day; $46 a month with a $40 initiation fee.

B&B Mountaineering
Kelley, Iowa
515-769-2250
www.bnbmountaineering.com

THE WALL: Get above the corn with 60 routes on 10,000 square feet. With holds up to 35 feet off the deck, Iowa residents may want to consider bottled oxygen.
THE BETA: Throw a set of ice tools into the gym's 35-foot, overhanging faux-ice pillar, made of a low-density polymer textured to look like a frozen waterfall. Pumpy WI 4 rating. (Coming soon: indoor mixed climbing.)
THE CRUX: $10 a day; $60 a month. Ice wall $5 extra per day.

Mission Cliffs
San Francisco, California
415-550-0515
www.mission-cliffs.com 

THE WALL: Home to international competitions, this recycled warehouse features more than 100 routes up to 55 feet on 14,000 square feet. Industrial-size problem: Stem off a crane left behind by the previous tenant.
THE BETA: Tired of the routes here? Fifteen minutes away is the Berkeley Iron Works, with more than 100 routes and 14,000 square feet of climbing. The Works shares membership with Mission Cliffs.
THE CRUX: $100 initiation fee, $60 a month; $16 a day after 3 p.m., $8 a day before 3 p.m.

Lincoln Park Athletic Club
Chicago, Illinois
773-529-2022
www.lpaconline.com

THE WALL: A 70-by-70-foot playground of roofs, bulges, and imprinted holds on the exterior of an athletic complex. Snag a heel hook and wave to commuters as they pass at eye level on the El's Red Line.
THE BETA: Ownership hopes to place heating tubes in the wall for warm(er) outdoor winter climbing. Until then, go inside and warm up on "The Rock," a vertical or overhanging (you decide) treadmill with holds for climbing in place, hamster-style.
THE CRUX: $14 a day; $90 a month for entire complex.

Vertical World
Seattle, Washington
206-784-2846
www.verticalworld.com

THE WALL: Nine hundred panels of hand-sculpted concrete add up to 14,000 square feet. A hundred and fifty routes up to 35 feet high.
THE BETA: Place gear and learn aid-climbing techniques in the gym that Greg Child helped build in 1987—the first indoor climbing gym in the nation.
THE CRUX: $11 weekdays, $16 weekends; $40 monthly.

Garage Rock

Tips on building a home gym for late-night bouldering—just don't step on the rake

OK, IT's 8:30 on a Sunday evening, the climbing gym is closed, and for the last 45 minutes while you've pretended to listen to your spouse sermonize on your failure to open yourself to a deeper level of emotional communication, you've been secretly visualizing a crux move that's repeatedly spanked you. Obviously, you've got a serious problem. There's only one solution: It's time to break out the power tools and convert your garage into a home rock wall.

Needless to say, the disharmony this creates with said spouse may swiftly extend to include your landlord, who, obviously, will raise all sorts of misguided financial and aesthetic objections to a project like this. Ignore them. (C'mon, who ever gets their security deposit back anyhow?) Instead, focus on the rich climbing dividends that will soon begin flowing from your miniature gym: the ability to customize boulder problems, endlessly tweak moves, and log more wall-time than ever. Here's a rundown of the basic building blocks you'll need, some pointers you'll want to keep in mind, and a few resources that will get you on your way to becoming an around-the-clock rock jock.

DESIGN: Let's assume that the wall you have to work with is no shorter than nine feet and no wider than than 14. Within these 126 square feet, your mission is to create the tallest, broadest sheet of unbroken, overhanging climbing surface you can. The key here is not the severity of the angle—so long as it's overhanging—but the variety and quantity of the holds you place within this space. Even a barely overhanging wall can provide endless challenges if you decorate it with sloping holds and tiny foot jibs.

T-NUTS: Drill 7/16-inch holes through your wall, placing these washer-shaped nuts on the backside as anchors for your holds. The more T-nuts you insert—try to place at least three or four per square foot—the easier it will be to rearrange your holds into fresh and ever more devilish configurations.

HOLDS: Place your large holds evenly over the entire surface so that you can utilize the entire wall for warm-ups. Position underclings—holds you use palm-up—down low for challenging sit-start problems, and attach plenty of buckets—big, grabby holds—at the tops so your routes have a variety of finishing positions to choose from. To avoid smashing your elbows and forearms, reserve your shallow in-cut holds for the middle of the wall.

JIBS: These tiny footholds (most of which have a profile of half an inch or less) are some of the most important features of your home climbing wall. When arranged in fairly dense clusters—two or three per square foot—from the base to the top, jibs can help improve your footwork and, more important, your core tension—the use of your stomach, back, and leg muscles to keep your hips close to the wall. Note: Be sure to use jibs that take two wood screws; those requiring only a single screw have an annoying tendency to loosen and spin.

HAND JIBS: Add screw-in handholds—sometimes called hand jibs—to areas where T-nuts cannot be used, such as against the timber framing that backs your wall, at the edges of the panels, or even on the framing itself around the sides of the structure.

ROTATION: Buy more holds than you can attach to the wall at any one time. Making up your own problems—sequences of movements between designated holds—is the best way to keep motivated. But beware: Climbing only your own problems can be self-indulgent; you tend to concentrate on what you do best, not worst. Have your friends devise a few sequences of their own for you.

 

Resources

www.trails-edge.com: Solid advice on where to place "the eyesore," rating a garage as best and interior rooms as among the worst.

www.cranc.com: A homegrown site with innovative tips on how to cut costs by making your own plastic holds, plus good advice on getting the most climbing out of a small space.

metoliusclimbing.com/howto.htm: A spot-on site with terrific info on setting up overhanging walls, as well as schematics of sample walls.

geocities.com/Yosemite/Trails/9640: Exchange ideas with other home climbing-wall builders, and learn how to shape your own holds.

Also recommended: Home Climbing Gyms, by Randy Leavitt ($10, Climbing Magazine, 1998) and the relatively slim Building Your Own Climbing Wall, by Ramsay Thomas ($6, Chockstone Press, 1995).

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