WRITER | MEGAN WESTERS
My first indoor rock climbing experience was at an indoor climbing gym called Planet Rock in Madison Heights, and involved me being absolutely terrified, dangling by one hand from the wall, four feet off the ground while my husband screamed, “Just let go!”
The funny part is, I’ve been climbing ever since. Even with that rocky start (no pun intended), what has kept me coming back to the sport is that each time I go rock climbing, I feel as though I’ve accomplished something: I’ve conquered my fear of heights, even if it’s in small increments.
Indoor rock climbing is a fun, active sport that offers something different for each climber. For me, it’s the accomplishment of conquering my fears and the workout it provides. For others, like my husband, rock climbing is a way to stay fit while also having fun.
Nick Cocciolone, president of Planet Rock, has been rock climbing for 30 years. His interest in the sport has stayed strong because of a phenomenon that he says he’s experienced many times. “It turns out that the act of climbing triggers something inside you that causes you to focus and let go of everything else,” said Cocciolone.
After trying rock climbing for the first time in 1989, he loved the sport so much that he started competing in local competitions and built a training wall in his backyard and garage. Ultimately, he felt he needed more space to train. “With some encouragement from my friends, who also wanted a place to climb, I found an old building that fit perfectly. It sprouted into a business,” he said.
Cocciolone’s gym has given novice climbers like me as well as climbers who are more advanced a place to practice and hone their skills, get a workout, and have fun. But while rock climbing offers fun and exercise, there’s no denying that there are some risks involved.
For those who are new to the sport, most facilities offer instruction and safety-focused classes that teach first-time climbers the basics. They also ensure that each climber knows how to use their equipment for safer climbing.
“The basic climbing gear that you need to get started is pretty simple,” said Cocciolone, explaining that only a harness, climbing shoes, a chalk bag, and a belay device are required. “Harness and belay devices are the mechanical safety parts. When in the hands of someone you can trust, these tools give you confidence and assurance that when you push yourself to your limit, they’ll catch you,” he said.
Climbing shoes tend to be very tight fitting, with a hard sole to protect your feet. The chalk bag (and chalk inside the bag) help buffer your hands from the rock or handholds, making sure your hands don’t slip if they get sweaty.
For those who are interested in trying the sport, Planet Rock has two locations, one in Madison Heights and one in Ann Arbor. The Michigan Climbing Gyms website has a comprehensive list of facilities throughout the state that offer indoor climbing.
As far as advice for your first time, Cocciolone says to try it with an open mind and to “trust your instincts.”
“We are natural climbers; we just need the right introduction to live long enough to enjoy it,” he said. “I’ve said for many years that it’s not the end that you reach, it’s the journey there. Although this sport provides so many things for so many people, it is not for everyone. Yet there is something for everyone who tries it.”
Michigan Climbing Gyms: IndoorClimbing.com