This is kind of a studio/gym review and kind of a diary of going climbing for my first time. Like, it's my first time so I have nothing to compare it to, but I still thought you'd like to know about it!
There's a lot of people where I work on the North Shore of MA who go to this climbing gym in Newburyport. One of those people is a good friend of mine who started taking pole from me. So I agreed that since she tried pole, I should try climbing. Now that a series of performances, teaching engagements, and other physical activities are behind me, I finally made the trek up.
The gym is Metrorock Newburyport, and I'm lucky enough that my friend had a guess pass so I could get in free.
Metrorock Newburyport is conveniently located right next to the commuter rail, but I caught a ride with my friend. She warned me as we were getting out of the car that Saturday is a big birthday party day there, so the place might be swarming with children (ugh), but it looks like we just missed the party and it was pretty quiet.
Metrorock is in a huge warehouse-like space, which is an environment that will be familiar to many aerialists (more those that train in circus schools than those that train in pole studios, which tend to be smaller). The first thing that struck me was how colorful it was. The grips sticking out from the walls were color-coded, creating a kind of whimsical atmosphere.
My friend told me to wear yoga pants or leggings and layered tops since it can get cold, so I wore my Bad Kitty pants, SuperShag 2014 Competition tank top (I was a pole cleaner), and my awesome Intrigue Fitness hoodie that I can't believe is holding up considering how much I wear it. So I was all decked out in pole gear and pigtails, representing! I had to rent a pair of shoes from the counter, which were kind of like slim-fit sneakers. I found them perfectly comfortable (they make you get a size up from street shoe).
So my friend Judy walked me through some of the basics: some of the grippy things are good handholds and some are good footholds, worry about moving your feet before moving your hands, try to hang with your arms straight rather than flexing and wearing out your biceps.
The coolest thing is that the different courses you can do are color coded like hiking trails. Like, if you want to do an easy climb, follow the yellow; if you want to do a harder climb in the same area, follow the green. Each course was labeled with a level, although there were a few different numbering schemes (competition style and something else), so doing a 120 in one part of the room is easier than doing a 3 in another part.
We started with "bouldering," which is the lower walls that you do without a harness. I kind of assumed this whole thing would be really easy for me since I am an aerialist, but I started at the easiest course (a 50) just to get my bearings. IT WAS HARD! Your forearms get exhausted right away; it was like doing silks for the first time. It's totally not obvious figuring out where to put your hands and feet, and there's nothing holding you up except your tenuous grip on a red blob sticking out of the wall. And there's all this fancy footwork like hopping to replace one foot on a grip with your other foot, and pivoting against the wall. I made it to the top and back on my first try, but it was pretty exhausting and it was basically the bunny slope.
My second course (I think it was a 70) was a little harder and took me two tries, but I did get complimented on my hoodie by a lady my friend knew. You never know how strangers are going to take pole dancing apparel!
So we did several paths, and I got most of them. There was one I bailed on just because one of the reaches was putting my shoulder in a compromised position.
After about an hour of that, Judy suggested trying the auto-belay, which is where you are in a harness and the line is controlled mechanically (as opposed to a person belaying you, which we weren't allowed to do because I didn't have the training). I was happy when she told me that bouldering was more difficult than belay, so we had already gotten the hard part out of the way.
I rented a harness. Putting it on reminded me of putting on Bodybinds; it was kind of a similar shape with a belt and garters.
Again, I did the easiest courses. It was a little easier with the belay, kind of like doing an assisted pull-up. I never really jumped down and let it take my full weight, which is probably something I should have tried and gotten used to.
I think I got through 2 paths successfully and bailed on the 3rd. My blood sugar was getting low and my hands were starting to hurt from the rough grips. (Again, kind of like your first silks class.) Overall we were climbing for an hour and a half, which I think is pretty respectable for a first try!
I can see how climbing appeals to thinking types. Like silks, there is a lot of strategizing and thinking ahead and trying to mentally picture how to make something work. Aside from it being really exhausting on the forearms, and definitely getting your heart rate up, I didn't feel like I was working my other muscle groups especially hard. My arms and legs were never tired and as of right now nothing is sore (my hands are a a little raw). I think it is something other aerialists should try, though, because it's a completely different way of using the exact same skills. Climb, keep your balance, calculate how to execute something, preferably in advance but maybe while hanging on by a pinky. Embrace heights. Scare your mom.
Metrorock, Newburyport MA
Equipment: Bouldering walls, belay walls, auto-belay, I saw a chinup bar in the back... Shoes ($5) and harnesses ($3) for rent
Amenities: Bathrooms/locker rooms, reception area with merch and snacks, area to change shoes with storage cubbies
Drop-in rate: $20
Photos (of me!) by Judy Erkmann