I don't look like rock-climbing material. I'm only moderately athletic, I don't love heights, and I can do exactly one push-up. But now that I've learned the basics of the sport, I know that my noodle arms are not reasons to stay away from rock faces. As Mykael Lazzeri, an instructor at Mission Cliffs climbing gym in San Francisco, says: "If you can climb a ladder, you can climb a rock."
This is good news for anyone looking for an outdoor activity that is both physically challenging and mentally engaging. Steve Gerberding, an instructor at Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School and a 26-year climbing veteran, says, "Rock climbing is puzzle solving."
To locate climbing gyms, such as Mission Cliffs (2295 Harrison St., San Francisco; 415/550-0515), visit www.rockclimbing.com or check your yellow pages.
Each of the well-regarded climbing schools listed below offers outdoor climbing instruction to beginners. Prices for a one-day group lesson begin at about $85. For lists of reputable schools and guides, contact the American Alpine Institute (see below) or the American Mountain Guides Association (303/271-0984).
- American Alpine Institute. Bellingham, WA; (360) 671-1505.
- Exum Mountain Guides. Moose, WY; (307) 733-2297."
- Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School. Joshua Tree, CA; (800) 890-4745, or (760) 366-4745.
- Moab Desert Adventures. Moab, UT; (877) 765-6622.
- Shasta Mountain Guides. Mt. Shasta, CA; (530) 926-3117.
- Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service. Yosemite National Park, CA; (209) 372-8344.
The variety of rock-climbing gear is staggering, but there are only a few items you need to get started. All courses and gyms will rent or lend you gear to use.
- Helmet: Highly recommended for all outdoor climbing. It will protect you if you fall, and also protect you in the much more likely event of falling debris. From $50.
- Chalk bag: Not necessary, but as Steve Gerberding says, "A chalk bag will help you look cool while you're stalling on the face." From $12.
- Harness: The rule here is to find one that is comfortable and fits properly. Always try a harness on before purchasing. From $22.
- Locking carabiner and belay device: These pieces of hardware are belaying essentials. From about $15 each.
- Shoes: Rock-climbing shoes are an absolute must and are generally worn very snug. Having your own pair ensures the best fit. From $80.