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Rocky Romance:
Climbing the Walls for Love

or, You Won't Mind If I Get Clingy?

by Kate Mayfield

Imagine you're perched high in a spacious room where the walls are spangled with globules in myriad shapes and colors: a kind of Utopian singles bar. Instead of lashing back shots, everyone is completely focussed on what they're doing.

Your breath feels shallow. The earth spins beneath your feet. Every step you take is more terrifying than your last. You reach out, looking for something to grab onto... are you falling in love? Nope. You're climbing a sheer rockface attached to nothing but a rope.

To meet someone here you don't have to say something like, "How much does a polar bear weigh?" Instead, try: "That was cool; tell me how you did that." Men and women talk together, spend time together, get to know each other -- all without headaches or a bad case of regret the next day.

Too good to be true? Well, maybe I got a little carried away. But try your local climbing gym and you might be surprised at how good a place it is to elevate your dating status.

Let's Get Vertical, Vert-i-cal...

As a popular sport, climbing really took off in the 90s. In 1993, the first indoor climbing gym opened in Seattle and soon climbing walls started appearing in malls and gyms all over the country. Today, many cities, especially those located near climbing-friendly terrain, have at least one specialized climbing gym. These gyms attract a huge cross-section of people from all walks of life. Not all of them are single and or desirable, but a lot of them are... and a lot of them are.

Real Life Testimonial #1: Rock Talk
Margie is a graduate student who lives in the Bay Area. She met her boyfriend, Eric on her second visit to the climbing gym. She especially enjoys the social element of the sport.

"I wanted to meet new people and do something active. When you're climbing for two hours with one person you spend a lot of time talking and you find out pretty fast if this is someone you have anything in common with. When I started out at the gym I climbed with a lot of different people, but I kept ending up with Eric because we had a lot to talk about."

As a beginning climber, safety demands that you climb with a partner. The climber is attached to a rope that is clipped in different points to the rock, or wall, and held at the bottom by a belay partner. If the climber slips or falls, his partner pulls the rope tight, thereby preventing him from plummeting to the ground. In general, belay partners are a climber's friend; for single climbers, belay partners are really really great friends.

And it's not hard to find one. If you come alone to the gym, you can put your name on a list and when another person sans partner arrives he or she will come and get you. Now maybe this other person may be the next love of your life. More likely, though, your new partner will introduce you to more new friends, who can introduce you to more new friends... and one of them will be the love of your life. The bottom line: climbing is a social sport that people learn from and teach each other.

Real Life Testimonial #2: Careful Who You Fall For
Kathi dated an instructor from her climbing gym for several months and has since moved on to another relationship sparked by climbing. For her, climbing is better than a more traditional date because there's no room for pretense.

"You don't sit there going 'What are we going to do together?' And it's not like being in a restaurant where you have time to think about what you're going to say. You have to focus entirely on what you're doing. Who that person is really comes through. You learn a lot about someone's decision-making skills."

Step One: Don't Freak

So you've done it. Your inner-voice spoke and said, "Yes, yes, I will climb, yes!" You are now at the gym, peering up the lumpy vertical face of the wall and wondering why the handholds are so small. Suddenly a stranger walks up and asks you if you climb. And perhaps you find this stranger -- shhh (giggle) -- kinda cute. Here's how to really get your relationship off the ground.

As you might guess, the best way to start climbing is to take a class. In fact, many gyms require some preliminary instruction. All gyms offer a variety of classes and you won't need to join the gym to participate. Buying essential equipment (shoes and harness) runs about $150.00, but you can rent what you need for a small fee until you feel a little more committed to the idea. One great resource to explore early on is REI; not only is there probably a store near you, but most of them have indoor climbing walls you can use for free and gear you can test on the spot.

Once you've gotten the hang of things, you can either join a gym (the rates are equivalent to traditional gyms) or pay each time you go. As for physical requirements, the only strength you need to make your first climb (and probably the next several hundred) comes from your legs. Only advanced climbers rely on arm and finger strength, so if you're envisioning yourself hanging by your fingers from an icicle 2000 feet off the ground, you're a bit ahead of the game. To find a gym in your area just head to the Web. To read more about the sport of climbing check out Rockfax.com and Deadpoint.com.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough...

When you leave the gym and climb outside, much of the time is spent in preparation, walking to new locations or waiting for your turn. All those non-climbing minutes add up to extra time for flirting. If you continue to climb, a whole world opens up in front of you, with no shortage of skills and techniques to master. But however you decide your climbing career will go, there's one challenge you will definitely face. How do you master your own mind? How will you handle the danger? How will you face your own fear? (And there will be some.)

Now, add another person -- a person you're involved with -- into the equation. This is like two thrill rides in one. Are you ready for the adventure?

Real Life Testimonial #3: "Trust me"
Ernest met his girlfriend Nicole through friends and they got to know each other through climbing. Ernest especially enjoys the personal challenge.

"You humble yourself, because you have to trust in this person and they have to be emotionally there for you. If you get scared, or don't know what to do next, they have to encourage you from the ground. Even with someone you're meeting for the first time, there are issues that never come up in the other parts of your relationship."

Now go forth, take that sense of adventure, take your positive attitude, your belief in yourself, and push it to the limit. Don't worry about meeting someone, just concentrate on the climb. And when you get to the top of the wall, you may be surprised at who you find there.

Images Copyright © REI 2000

Kate Mayfield lives in Los Angeles and has a mortal fear of driving.

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