Conquering fear, vertically


photograph by Mark Petko

by Charman Driver

On the day I decided to try indoor rock climbing, I didn’t bother to mention to Joel Graybeal, managing partner of the Triangle Rock Club, that I have a fear (let’s call it minor) of heights. As I put on a pair of rented rock-climbing shoes, my palms began to sweat. “Relax,” I told myself, as I took in the 9,000 square feet of climbing walls surrounding me at TRC’s Morrisville facility.

I didn’t inform Graybeal, my coach for this Walter adventure, of my (insignificant) fear as he helped me into a climbing harness secured to a rope.

I didn’t mention a word of it as I noted the bags of chalk that would surely help a case of slippery hands. Graybeal explained that his belay device, also attached to my harness, would control the tension on my rope as I ascended to the top, and would act like a brake if I fell. (Amen!)

And I reminded myself that lots of people climb, more every day. I’d read in Outside magazine that indoor climbing “could soon replace spin class as the urban professional’s sport of choice,” that climbing gyms are opening up all over the country, and that something like 1,000 people a day are trying this out for the first time.

I even read on that the International Olympic Committee is considering adding indoor climbing to the 2020 Olympics! Many claim it is the fastest-growing adventure sport in the world. Even the giant gym I’m in is about to more than double in size, to 24,000 square feet, a tangible testament to the growing popularity of the sport in our area.

So….sweaty palms and pounding heart, be damned! I was going up that wall!

“Breathe,” I told myself.

Around me, a room full of tracked-out 8-year old boys and girls ambled up and down the walls, seemingly without effort.  “You can do this,” I said.

And I did.

Under Joel’s guidance, I learned that handholds and footholds – shaped grips bolted to the wall – are color-coded to indicate the best route to take up the vertical plane and showed me just where to place my hands and feet. And that different routes have different “grades,” indicating their level of difficulty.

As I climbed up the wall, I was so focused on where to place my hands and feet, and the route I was to take, that I hardly had a moment to be bothered by my elevation. And then it was time to come down!

After I rappelled to the ground, every muscle in my body was firing. But I was burning up to try a more challenging route.

“I want a better grade!”  I told Graybeal. And I got it.

I also learned that the sense of accomplishment in this sport is incredibly addictive and motivating. Plus, it’s an all-body workout, combining endurance and strength training.

Joel expressed it best: “To be good, you need strength, balance, technique, coordination, problem solving, and mental resolve,” he said. “But combining the mental aspect with the physical aspect is what makes the sport so interesting for so many people.”

I walked away from TRC one of those people and eager to spread the word: Climbing is fun and safe for people of all ages and abilities. Now I get why it’s the fastest growing sport in the world: you’ll never get bored and you’ll conquer your fear!

Not that I mentioned it.   


Triangle Rock Club is located at 102 Pheasant Wood Court, Morrisville. For more information and hours of operation go to