Try this: Rock climbing

  • Article by: KATY READ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2012 - 3:13 PM
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Susie Osentowski, an instructor at Vertical Endeavors, demonstrated “bouldering” — rock climbing without a rope — at the newly opened facility, which is housed in an historic ice house building in Minneapolis.

Photo: Joey Mcleister, Special to the Star Tribune

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One morning last month, the newly opened Vertical Endeavors indoor rock-climbing gym in Minneapolis was filled with people scurrying up rugged walls, clinging to little multi-colored nubs, all the way to the ceiling, two long stories up.

"It's referred to as the vertical dance," said Pat Mackin, director of instruction and guiding for Vertical Endeavors. "Choreography plays a big part in climbing."

It's a common misconception that rock climbing is all about strengthening the upper body, Mackin said. Experienced climbers don't pull themselves up with their arms, but pivot and turn and reach for holds. The moves work the entire body, including the legs and core. Even your mind gets a workout as you strategize what holds to grab and where you can safely put your feet.

"The sport is really more about finesse than power," Mackin said. "But power's always a good thing, too."

Climbing looks challenging but is newcomer-friendly, he said. Virtually anyone of any body type or age can do it -- Vertical Endeavors customers range from 6-year-olds to 70-year-olds -- and the sport attracts both genders in about equal proportions.

"Men and women have different strengths, different footwork," said Susie Osentowski of Minneapolis, a Vertical Endeavors staffer who has been climbing for five years.

Mackin started climbing 30 years ago, when a friend proposed a climb at Taylor's Falls. "I knew by the middle of the day what I was going to do for the rest of my life," he said. As an instructor and certified guide for the past two decades, he takes groups for outside climbs at places like Devil's Tower in Wyoming, that famous natural monument featured in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Mackin has ascended it 107 times.

Gravity is unforgiving and climbing can be dangerous -- hence the extensive waivers that every visitormust sign. But it's not like an ambulance stays parked outside the gym, Mackin said; most of the injuries are relatively mild ankle sprains or finger twists. The gym's floor is thickly carpeted with bouncy shredded rubber. The challenge, Mackin said, is preventing indoor climbers from becoming complacent about safety, to teach them the importance of keeping their harnesses securely clipped in place at all times.

"If we were standing on a four-by-four-foot ledge 800 feet off the ground on Devil's Tower," Mackin said, "you'd never have to remind anybody to clip in."

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