The Questionable Joys of Indoor Rock Climbing

The room is dry, yet sweaty.

People everywhere are crowding around and queuing for routes.

You feel their eyes bore into the back of your head and you know they’re judging you for falling off and wasting your turn, and their time.

Especially the unnecessarily topless guy in the corner…


Or maybe that’s just my climbing insecurities coming through!

Either way, for me, that defines my feelings towards indoor rock climbing walls: they’re competitive./.p.

They can be fun and the people are often friendly and full of welcome advice, but they are competitive. Every route is clearly labelled and as such, I am constantly comparing myself to others’ and my previous performances. For me, indoor rock climbing is a sport; a method of exercise; a training tool.


And ­­is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not! Competition is key to sport and imperative to a fun activity, arguably. It is a brilliant way to condition your body and mind. It really can be a full body activity that tests your vision, dedication and robustness. It can work your cardiovascular system, as well as build your muscular endurance and strength. So what am I moaning about?

For me, it is and always will be just training. Climbing indoors may be training for your next adventure, your next big route or even for your next trip down to the beach, but it will just be training. It is not an adventure, not in the same way that a long (or short for that matter), mountainous route in North Wales or the Dolomites can ever be. It is not a method of travel either. When you are climbing outdoors, even if there are more accessible and less dangerous paths, you have arrived at a definition when you top-out or reach the summit of your chosen ascent. Even if that peak is covered in damp, close cloud without a view, you still know that you have finished and conquered it.

One of the biggest attractions for me about outdoor climbing though is that it doesn’t have to be hard for you to get a huge sense of accomplishment. When I climb indoors, I have to push myself to feel like I have succeeded, but on real rock, that is very different.


Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoy pushing myself and scrabbling up a route that tests every element of my body and mind. The rush of endorphins when you top out a lead that made your legs quiver like a butterfly’s wing is almost unbeatable. But equally, there is a great deal of satisfaction from climbing an easier route, whether that’s with friends or solo – it’s always an adventure.

It is also a great way to experience the outdoors and ‘become one with nature’, as clichéd and as hippy as that sounds! This is especially true of bouldering. There is no colour co-ordinated route, or, often at least, a predefined pattern of hand and footholds for cracking a problem. It is you against the rock, or with the rock, if you’re lucky. It requires total concentration, and everything else must leave your mind. There is a sense of nature and accomplishment that can’t be found when climbing plastic. Well not for me at least.

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So that is why I always have and always will prefer climbing real rock. You may end up sitting on a little ledge on the side of a cliff with the wind battering your shivering frame and a stream of river water running through your trousers as you wait (sort of) patiently for your lead to set up his anchor above you (yes that’s happened to me, and yes it’s about as pleasant as it sounds!), but it will always be an adventure and it will always feel great to reach that summit.

Indoor rock climbing is a great way then to progress to outdoor rock climbing, to learn the necessary skills to be safe and to train yourself for your conversion to adventurous rock climbing, but for me, it will forever be preparation. It is definitely a worthwhile activity, a beneficial sport, but for a real adventure and true fun, grab your stickies and your waterproofs and follow me…

Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you…

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