UP AGAINST THE WALL
Stories by Katherine Dedyna Times Colonist Life writer
Times Colonist (Victoria)
Sat Jun 13 1998
The great outdoors it isn't. But blatantly fake indoor rock climbing walls are getting a grip on increasing numbers of Victorians who hanker after year-round, all-weather workouts. These walls mimic some of the wilderness challenge but offer short stints close to cold pop and a soundtrack that ranges from rap to Dean Martin.
And you don't have to be a die-hard outdoorsy type. Indoor climbing is on the ascendant with complete novices, kids who once relied on the tallest tree in the neighborhood as well as dedicated mountaineers.
Group home worker Katherine Dacombe has never had a foot hold on an outdoor rock face in her life. But for the last eight months, she and her husband have been climbing the walls indoors at Crag X three times a week, getting a sense of climbing in a controlled, safe environment where people who know what they're doing hold the ropes.
"It's very centering, I find, because it's almost like a puzzle,'' she says of the 6,000 square feet gold-colored textured plywood dotted with 2,000 hand and foot grips. "It's very rewarding to finally work out a route because it's not just brute strength.''
The walls reach about 10 metres to a ceiling in a one-time welding shop near the Bay Street Bridge where huge doors let blue sky pour in.
She was scared when she first started, but now she knows she's safe in her harness. "As long as you trust your partner, it's not scary. You fall all the time. It's normal. That's how you push yourself to realize the next level a little beyond your skill level whereas outside you don't want to do something you're not comfortable with.
"Climbing, I find, is not about making it to the top but about getting beyond where you were last time. It's a challenge to be able to look at the rope, stand back and assess the flow and decide how you'd get up.''
The workout might not do much for your cardio but after a day here you definitely feels a lot more of your muscles, some you didn't know you had, says Crag X owner Nikolai Galadza, a hip 25 year-old with a finger on time-off trends.
One of his promos reads: "High on the walls of Crag X your mental clarity will make the difference between success and falling. Sound too challenging? No fear, there's always TV.''
It's probably more dangerous to ride a bike around town than it is to climb at Crag X, says Galadza.
"The sport has grown so much in the last five to 10 years because the technological advances in the safety gear have gone through the roof.''
Prices run at $12 for an adult day to an annual student pass for $245 to five kid sessions for $50.
Galadza got into climbing on the Niagara Escarpment, became an instructor and fell in love with Victoria a few years ago. Coincidentally, it was one of the last major centres in Canada that didn't have a climbing gym.
Despite its proximity to natural wonders, there is little in the way of rock face to compare with Squamish, hence his centre.
The facility is finishing its third year of operation and has expansion plans. "We're going to be twice the size. The whole thing is going to be renovated and redone.''
The centre sets up the anchoring and rope systems for the 27 routes up the walls which are changed every two months to keep the challenge intact.
And it's good enough for teacher Martin Conder, 50, who has been climbing for a quarter-century all over Western North America: "It's a very big part of my life.''
He counts on Crag X for off-season training but before it was on the scene, he built his own small climbing wall in the basement for the off-season.
"It keeps me in good shape for when I get back on the real rock. You can do this all winter.''
The facility is also a place to meet fellow climbers and take pleasure in taking control.
Computer programmer Jim McAleer, 33, looks to climbing for stress relief. "It takes your mind off work.''
His colleague Andrew Zoltay, 31, comes two or three a week, for up to four hours at a time. "It's great. I used to play a lot of volleyball but it was too hard on my joints.''
Brothers Luke and Nathan Duffus, aged seven and 12, have been climbing the walls ever since Luke had his first visit on his birthday.
"He's been hooked on it ever since,'' says his mother, Kim, unfazed as her boys clamber all over the place with intensity and commitment.
"I think the physical activity is great as well as the discipline,'' she says. "We get here at least twice a week. I love watching them - they're quite safe in here.''
Wearing a Godzilla T-shirt, under his harness, Luke makes like Spiderman. "It's fun,'' he says, his blue eyes blazing, even if it is "kind of hard.''
"The first time on the ledge, I shaked,'' Luke recalls. But no more. The Glanford Grade One student now finds it thrilling.
As he struggles for a hand hold, belayer James Laurie urges: "Reach up, you're there. There's a big pocket on the inside of it. You almost had it. Push with your feet, really hard. Go for it.''
Rock climbing is not about dragging yourself up with big arms, says Galadza.
"Some women who can't do one chin-up can climb circles around the guys here who work out regularly. It has to do with balance, technique, using your legs and body... Women tend to be stronger to their weight than guys. They're more flexible, so movement in their hips is easier and they have a better sense of balance.
"Often when I teach technique, I try to get guys to emulate a female style.''
Crag X has a women's clubs and is starting one for teens at risk.