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Gym Climbing

Tired of the Dirtbag Life? How to Go from Crag to Gym

Rock climbing is hard. If you're tired of toughing it out in the great outdoors, here is how to acclimate to gym life.

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Are you finally fed up with recently potty-trained children warming up on your lifetime proj? Are all of those crag beers finally starting to weigh you down? It sounds like time to say goodbye to your all-but- forgotten days of posting up in Camp 4 and #Creeksgiving, and hello to your new life as a gym climber.

You held out for a long time, and I’m proud of you for trying to maintain your image as an O.G. dirtbag, but sustaining a life as a real, outdoor rock climber these days is pretty much impossible. Plastic is in. Granite is out. And no, you can’t just be a boulderer.

The road ahead isn’t going to be easy. You have a lot to learn. But don’t fret, I’m here to help.

I, too, used to stay up late drinking by the campfire, silently judging the braggy college trip leader across the flames. And I, too, awoke from my dreamy vagabond climber fairytale to find myself in a foreign, climate-controlled land of brightly colored climbing holds shaped like baby faces and amoebas, alone and afraid. But I persevered, and I can finally say that I’m a real gym climber now.

Follow a few simple steps, and, you too, will soon feel at home climbing plastic listening to “More Is Than Isn’t” from RJD2.

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Gear Down

First things first: Shed yourself of all but the necessities. You’re probably never going to need that ascender again. Consider repurposing the last 50 meters of your climbing rope as a doormat. You could probably get like $100 for all those Tricams on Craigslist.

That said, many of my fellow gym climbers like to keep a personal anchor system, an ATC and two locking carabiners attached to their gear loops at all times, so there may be some advantage to having a bunch of metal clanging around behind you while you’re cruxing out mid-gym-route.

Get Acrobatic

Next, consider taking an introductory parkour course. In my first few months as a gym climber, I mistook the setters’ affinity for “run-and-jump” starts as blatant prejudice against short people. So, I hid a stash of super-flat cheater-stack rocks in the women’s locker room for eight months until the gym’s cleaning service ratted me out.

But after much (resentful) practice, I’m no longer fazed when forced to run- and-jump to a start hold, climb feet-first up the entire length of a boulder problem, or paddle-dyno my way through the crux of a 5.10. Some kind of parkour 101 would have definitely expedited my learning process.

Give in to the ‘Gram

Now, you may have already come to the unfortunate realization that you can’t log gym routes on your 8a scorecard. Yet. Keeping track of your #infinitegains on a public platform is important to psych. How are all those pseudo-pros and “influencers” you met in Hueco going to know you can still climb V10 now that you live in New England? Instagram.

You probably thought your Insta following would suffer as much as your scorecard when you moved to the city, but here’s where you’re mistaken. People LOVE watching other people train. No kidding!! Get one of those little tripods for your iPhone and never stop recording. People want to see your progress—every attempt!—on your MoonBoard project. Weighted pullups are super in right now. I posted a pic of myself doing deadhangs once and I’ve never gotten so many climbing bots to follow me all at once.

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Give Up

Of course, much of the advice above assumes you are using the gym as a training facility. I believe such was the initial intended purpose of the climbing-gym concept, but the climbing world is changing. Fast.

Why punt when you can socialize, hang out in the sauna, or troll the Internet and heckle people from the café upstairs? They wouldn’t have installed 12 different draught lines at the bar inside the gym if they really wanted me to spend my time dry-firing off the Tension Board. So, don’t worry if your training sessions look increasingly like social hours—not climbing is really the best part about gym climbing.

Transitioning from crag to gym isn’t going to be easy. I teared up a bit when I had to part ways with my stick clip and all those BD stickers I’d stuck on it over the years. My finger tendons atrophied as I learned the art of climbing slabby volume problems, and I still miss that sweet satisfaction of logging a route as “Soft, second go.”

But in due time, you’ll finally get rid of that pile of bail-biners you’ve acquired and learn to stop obsessively checking the local weather forecast. You might contract a chronic respiratory disease from all that loose chalk floating around the gym, but at least the humidity will always be less than 20 percent. And if psych ever gets too low, there is always a cold one waiting for you. After your sauna.

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