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).
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.