Climb the wall.
Rock climbing has sometimes been called "vertical chess," because it involves mental preparedness, problem solving and planning ahead. "I think of it like solving a puzzle," says Aubrey Miller, an employee of Crux Rock Climbing Gym in Eugene. "You're trying to solve this problem of how to get from the ground to the top."
Crux Rock is one of a few indoor climbing options in town. Outdoors, there's also the columns at Skinner Butte, a popular location. "That's a really cool outdoor resource," Miller says. "I've never been to a city that has outdoor climbing downtown. You can do traditional climbing and tie climbing right here in town and that doesn't happen anywhere else that I know of."
For people new to climbing, learning on an indoor wall lessens the learning curve. A climbing wall is a controlled environment that is less varied and unpredictable than an outdoor setting, with instructors who can show you the ropes. Shoes and a chalk bag for sweaty hands are minimum gear, and gyms such as Crux Rock provide those, so newcomers don't need to invest in those.
"Depending on what kind of climbing you do after that you can get all kinds of gear for ropes or bouldering," Miller explains. At Crux Rock, the climbing rate varies depending on whether the climber is a student, a member or a nonmember. Members receive a free belay lesson (belayers are the person on the ground who controls the safety ropes for a climber); each rate comes with shoes and the chalk bag. Crux Rock hosts Women's Night every Monday for women of all skill levels.
Climbing enthusiast Michael Hudson has designed and hand-built Elevation Bouldering Gym, which is slated to open Nov. 3 on Lincoln Street, across from Crux Rock gym. Hudson will offer more than 9,000 square-feet of climbing terrain, in an 18,000-square-foot building.
"We have a dedicated room for young climbers, showers, a lounge and a fitness room that's designed to complement climbing," Hudson says. "Members will enjoy technique and fitness classes as an amenity."
Bouldering is climbing without ropes on small rocks and boulders. "You climb to the top and then jump down," Miller says. "Bouldering is harder moves, rope climbing is longer routes and there's a lot of rope work involved, knot tying techniques and anchors."
Puzzles for the mind
Another local climbing wall is inside Willamalane's Bob Keefer Center for Sports and Recreation in Springfield. Willamalane offers climbing events such as the recent and annual ROCKtoberfest, in which adults got to experience rope climbing for free with experienced belayers and bouldering.
Willamalane hosts a women's night one Friday a month, at which women help other women learn techniques in a nonintimidating setting.
Wayne Beckwith, the climbing program coordinator, has nearly 20 years of climbing experience. "It's a puzzle that you can do with your whole mind and body," he says. "It really involves the physical and mental aspect. It brings people together.
"People can motivate each other. It's neat to see parents that are into it and then they get their kids into it and then to see the opposite happen."
At Elevation Bouldering Gym, there will be no ropes, and all the climbing is 15 feet or lower off a large, well-padded floor, Hudson explains. "This makes experiencing climbing much simpler, as no harness, rope or belay safety classes are needed," he says. "Being un-roped also allows people to climb without restriction, allowing a larger range of movement that would prove cumbersome on a rope."
Hudson's facility is designed to introduce people to climbing, and to teach them climbing movement, through the process of 'setting,' which is "designing the physical problems of varying difficulty through the use of climbing holds, to force specific types and styles of movement."
"This focus on climbing movement and creating kinesthetic puzzles gets at the heart of why people enjoy climbing so much," Hudson says. "It's an activity that simultaneously provides a physical, mental and social outlet."
If you decide to try climbing, wear comfortable clothing that is not tight or restrictive, or so baggy that it can get caught on things. Wear layers that can be removed so you don't overheat. Sneakers will work for footwear, although if you advance in climbing you'll want to invest in climbing shoes.
Your climbing workout will sharpen your focus, increase your hand and arm strength and improve your confidence. Recent research even suggests that climbing can lessen symptoms of depression.
"Once you're on the wall and climbing everything else goes away," Beckwith says. "It sounds cheesy but it is real, and it's a great workout that you don't realize you're getting."