Reaching new heights one terrifying step at a time

One lass with a serious fear of heights tries to climb a wall!

A figure scaling an indoor rock climbing wall
PHOTO: Stephanie Cook / Unsplash

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer 

I first tried indoor rock climbing at the SFU Climbing Wall in 2019. The experience was exhilarating, firstly, because I kept looking down and fearing the wrath of God, and secondly, because I was genuinely having a lot of fun. I remember not being able to grip a pencil in lecture afterwards, and wanting to chase that exhausted but thoroughly satisfied feeling. 

The SFU climbing wall reopened on September 20, 2021, so off I went for another go.

Right now, the Climbing Wall is open from 7:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. on Mondays to Fridays. The cost of the equipment and a day pass to climb for students is $15, which is cheap compared to other indoor climbing sessions like the HIVE’s ($25). Students can choose between top-roping (which requires a partner to hold you up) or bouldering (which requires small and more technical movements). Proof of vaccination and masks are required. SFU doesn’t currently offer drop-in sessions.

As my friend and I entered the facility, we were fitted with a climbing harness and shoes, and had a brief orientation about the kinds of climbing routes we could take. The difficulty of the routes scaled from the easiest to the most challenging, all marked by different colours and labels. 

Our instructor, Victor, explained the SFU climbing wall currently offers two different ways to climb: bouldering (no harness) and top-rope climbing (with harness). I am more comfortable climbing higher with top-roping, because it involves somebody holding down a rope attached to your harness. But this week, the climbing wall will have auto-belaying set up, so you can pull yourself down. 

As I alluded to earlier, I’m pretty darn scared of heights and was getting nervous as I approached the wall. But with dance pop playing in the background, I started getting pumped up — seriously, the staff have great taste in music. I found the environment super friendly, with the SFU recreational staff cheering on each climber to go higher. And while there were many beginner-friendly climbs, the harder climbs definitely posed a nice challenge for the friend I was climbing with. 

When I got to my first climb, I confessed my reservations about the wall to my top-roper, Colette. She took this in stride and tied me to the harness, making sure everything was snug. Feeling like a baby deer, as I scaled the wall for the first time in two years, I managed to climb five meters. But with Colette’s encouragement, my baby deer legs carried on.

At that point, I was feeling some strain in my shoulders so I asked to be let down: this involves your top-rope partner pulling you down while you sit on your harness. Admittedly, this was a little scary at first, but Colette definitely made the experience lighthearted, being very reassuring, as I plopped back onto the mats. 

I watched other climbers tackle the walls while I waited. Watching people ascend to the top of the wall was a cool experience in itself. I observed how their feet managed to find footholds, and how they stretched to get higher, and tried to apply this to my next few climbs. I found I wasn’t scared when I was climbing up, though the way down was a bit intimidating when I realized how far I had actually gotten. Plus, the overwhelming support you get from fellow climbers is really encouraging.

The SFU climbing wall also offers a few courses for groups of people, like a top-rope belay class to practice top-roping, and a lead climbing course for advanced climbers with tons of belay techniques. 

Overall, I found the wall to be a fun and inexpensive activity for an evening out with friends. Despite my fears, I found myself pleased knowing that I had challenged myself to go further.