Monday, September 5, 2011

Climbing @ The Castle, London vs. Edgeworks, Tacoma

I woke up this morning and realized I couldn't raise my arms above my head.  You might wonder why anyone would automatically want to raise her arms above her head upon waking, but I have this habit of flopping over onto my stomach when John gets up an hour and a half before me, putting the pillow over my head, and adopting a pose reserved for those chalk drawings of murder victims.  Seriously - try it, it's like, soooo comfortable.

Anyway, I should probably clarify: physically, I could raise my arms above my head, but not without a great deal of pain.  This is because I went indoor rock climbing yesterday (for the second time in my life) with John and my little brother, Justin, who happens to be a very experienced and advanced climber.  This kid is about my height and skinny, but he's got arms like Popeye The Sailor Man. He claimed he didn't even know how muscly his arms had gotten from climbing until he looked in the mirror one day and didn't recognize his own arms due to the size of his biceps.  He is ripped (he was also randomly approached by a middle-aged woman at SeaTac Airport and told that he was a "very good looking young man").  Moreover, he creeps along climbing walls nimbly, his movements graceful, decisive and calm.  And unlike the other climbers - novice or not - who wear name brand climbing trousers and tops, he climbs in none other than skinny jeans, a graphic tee and a pair of thick, black rimmed (non-prescription) glasses.  Basically, he's a badass.

On Saturday, we traveled to The Castle Climbing Centre in North London, to see how it compared to Edgeworks in Tacoma, Washington, where Justin usually climbs and where I had my first climbing experience.  Upon arrival, we were met with the overwhelming stench of ... feet (you know, that smell that stays in your memory forever if you ever took gymnastics as a kid or played in one of those ball pit area things).  Once I got over my initial inner retching, we signed in as Justin's novices (experienced climbers can register two novices at a time) and he was given a short quiz by one of the staff members.  We were all made to sign statements saying that we acknowledged climbing is a dangerous sport and that we understood we could die (yes, this was on the form) if not practiced properly and under correct supervision, clearing the centre of any liability.  John and I rented some cheesy shoes and harnesses for £5 per person and paid a fee of £12.50 each to climb.

One noticeable difference between The Castle and Edgeworks is the space.  Granted, we were probably there at peak time on their busiest day (Saturday afternoon), but there was literally hardly any room to manouevre - and if you weren't quick enough when bouldering (free climbing short walls without ropes, which help develop your strength and technique), Spidey Man on the other side with his North Face cargo shorts would simply encroach on your territory, rolls his eyes and sigh at you until you were pressured to move or fall off.  Nice!  Climbers bouldering would literally jump and hit the person behind them belaying.  People formed queues to climb and, whilst waiting, used that opportunity to eye each other up.  No one smiled.  Most scowled.  Annoying drum & bass (and I happen to like drum & bass - this was ANNOYING drum & bass, which is another category) played at a threatening volume behind us.  Between that and the foot-fungus smell, I started to feel a little queasy.  

"I'm ... um ... hot," I complained.  I looked at my watch.  We had only been there for 10 minutes.  Sigh.  I longed for the sky lit, air conditioned, fresh-smelling surroundings of Edgeworks.  And some smiles.  At Edgeworks, even at busy times, the walls are well spaced and no one is - literally - on top of each other.  Staff and climbers - novice and experts alike - are friendly and courteous.  Most of all, they look like they're enjoying themselves - you know, like, having fun?  Did no one at the Castle climb for fun?  Or did I stumble upon Climbing Olympics 2011?  Sheesh.

Nevertheless, I chalked the attitudes up to big city living and put my best climbing foot forward to scale my first route.  My first climb was easy but the fourth was a little challenging.  I tried the route once and gave up, asking Justin to let me down.  Then I tried it again, reached the same point, and again asked to be let down.  The answer came back as "NO."  What?  What do you mean no?  I DON'T WANT TO BE UP HERE ANYMORE.  MY ARMS ARE TIRED.  I THINK MY THIGH JUST SPASMED.  "No, you're gonna DO IT," barked my small but Popeye-the-Sailor-Man-limbed brother below me.  I whimpered a little and thought about my huge behind just hanging out in the harness.  I sucked in my core and decided to climb (well, I had no choice - my little brother wouldn't let me down!).  And I got to the top (to be fair, I was powered by anger and if you know me well, you know my anger serves as pretty good fuel for most things energetic).  "Now, don't you feel GREAT?" my brother asked me patronizingly but with a gleaming smile as I came down.  I wanted to smack him, but I was pretty pleased with myself, so I grumbled something unintelligible and unhooked the rope from my harness.

An hour and a half later, my arms were shaking (and here I was thinking I had good upper body strength from all that dynamic yoga) and my hands kinda raw.  It was time to go (though I had acclimatized to the foot smell by now).  Will I return to The Castle?  Only if I'm desperate for a climbing wall (i.e. never).  Otherwise, I'll wait until I get home to Edgeworks and have another go there.  

There, at least the people are nice and the foot smell is minimal.



  1. I think Peter is going there tomorrow! Not me. I'm too chicken / lazy.

  2. Ruth, you should go! I bet you'd be good at it. Warn him about the smell ...


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