Most rock climbers know the feeling: the quivering muscles and
tentative moves of the first routes of the season. But Eliza Rayner
said her climbing ability is at its peak in early spring.
"By August, I'm weak again. It's really sad but true," said the
Boulder, Colo., science teacher, who has been climbing for 10 years.
What gives? Rayner climbs indoors at the Boulder Rock Club, The
Spot, Rock'n & Jam'n, and the Paradise Rock Gym during the winter,
building strength, stamina and confidence in a controlled
environment. When the weather warms enough to head outdoors, she's
"If you ski, you can only ski a portion of the year," said Kevin
Smith, owner of the Thrillseekers climbing gym in Denver. "When you
come back, your skills will have diminished."
Not so with climbing. Athletes can take advantage of facilities
The steep overhanging routes typical of indoor climbing gyms
require more strength than what Rayner tackles outside, and staying
on what climbers call "the sharp end of the rope" -- lead climbing --
gives her the mental ability to pick up each spring where she left
off in the summer.
Indoor climbing facilities range from walls in retail shops to 12,000-square-foot gyms dedicated entirely to climbing.
Indoor climbing walls usually consist of a faux-rock surface with
strategically placed "holds." Holds are made from colorful,
synthetic materials to mimic the shapes and textures one might find
on real rock. In a gym, the holds are rearranged every few weeks to
keep the routes fresh.
Bryan Mallin, co-owner of the Paradise Rock Gym in Denver, said
there is a certain skill to arranging the holds -- called "route
setting" -- to provide a quality experience for climbers of different
"There is high-quality route setting. It's great as a Front Range
climber," Mallin said.
The methods of climbing also re-create the outdoor experience.
Climbers can choose to lead a climb, which means they are tied into
a rope, which they clip into protective gear throughout the route.
Taking a "lead fall" means dropping two times the distance from
the last point of protection. Climbing with the awareness that one
slip could mean a 20-foot free fall requires confidence and mental
Most beginning climbers start out by top-roping -- they are
attached to a rope that is suspended from above. If they come off
the wall, they will drop only slightly as the elasticity of the rope
gives to their body weight.
The third alternative of indoor climbing is bouldering, or
working on lateral routes closer to the ground, without ropes and
While some climbers, such as Rayner, have the dedication to climb
inside all winter, others flock to the gym with the first hints of
"March is always busy because people who don't climb a lot in the
winter are thinking about spring and summer and come in to get in
there," said Matt O'Connor, co-owner of the Boulder Rock Club.
"A lot of people take a break in the winter and go skiing. In March,
you are thinking about climbing. You want to build endurance, build
some power back up, get back into the swing of things and get some