Kenneth Nyhus clung to tiny nubs screwed into a wall — his eyes darted from outcrop to outcrop, searching for an option.
“Uh … I think you’re gonna have to do a barn door on this move,” said Scott Davidson, the chaperone for this Outdoor Adventure Club excursion. Davidson runs the Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC) at Rim Country Middle School.
Nyhus seemed to agree, allowing his right hand and leg to fall open. He then swung them rapidly into an arc to reach a hand and foot hold two feet from where he perched. Reaching the new hand and foot hold, he stuck like a glob of silly putty.
Gasps of appreciation came from the middle school students sitting on the floor watching Nyhus. Quickly he executed another move by gracefully twisting a leg and then an arm to the next location.
“He looks like he’s dancing!” said Adie Becker, an eighth-grader. The other students agreed.
Davidson takes his adventure club students to the Phoenix rock gym three or four times a year. He discovered the gym with his best friend more than 11 years ago.
“We went there for Mark’s bachelor party,” said Davidson.
Rock climbing has many benefits, ranging from the physical to the psychological.
It improves cardiovascular health by raising the heart rate and increasing blood flow.
An hour of rock climbing burns around 400 calories, offering a fun way to keep slim.
As an exercise routine, rock climbing tones muscle and improves heart and vascular health. For people without much time, the sport offers a great bang for the buck — no more splitting up exercise into a cardiovascular workout and an aerobic workout.
Psychologically, rock climbing improves confidence.
Mariah Bacon had only been rock climbing once before. She decided to watch a video on how to tie knots, set the equipment and climb safely before setting out with her partner, Angela Poe.
“She didn’t feel comfortable, so she wanted to see a refresher course,” said Davidson.
He enjoys introducing kids to new adventures and activities, even though he has done rock climbing for many years.
Watching the video, Bacon learned how to tie safe knots, explored climbing and the most psychologically challenging of all… rappelling down a wall, trusting her partner and the equipment.
In a gym, climbers don’t need to bring much equipment. A novice can easily pay to rent shoes and a harness and just start.
The gym has all the ropes and teaches beginners how to tie knots and set the ropes.
The gym builds walls with varying intensities of climbs. Easy climbs have numerous nubs offering multiple routes to the top. Difficult routes include angles popping out from the wall, requiring a climber to scuttle sideways like a spider on a ceiling.
Rock gyms have different sorts of handholds screwed into the wall, which give a climber hand and foot holds to reach the top. Most nubs look like rocks split in half, while others have fanciful shapes such as faces, lizards, telephones or shells.
Rock climbing gyms have walls up to three stories high. For beginning climbers, going up is easy; it’s the coming down that presents a challenge.
“Really? I’m supposed to lean back and walk down?” asks Bacon, “I think I’ll just climb back down.” She stared to inch back, finding new handholds, but the going is slow. Soon she decided to trust Angela. She sat into her harness, leaned out on the rope and walked down the wall.
The gym has metal loops on the floor, “So a 100-pound guy can belay a 300-pound guy,” said Nyhus.
He has himself clicked into a floor brace holding up Davidson who has decided to try a route on an advanced wall that juts out at a 45 degree angle.
“Dude, I can’t do this — my shoulder won’t do this,” said Davidson as he popped off the wall. He suffered an injury to his shoulder from carrying a backpack a few months earlier.
Nyhus holds tight as Davidson swings over the ground, sitting in his harness. Davidson returns to the wall and walks down to the floor to switch places with Nyhus.
In another corner, Becker introduces Bacon to an OAC rock climbing gym tradition: a chalk handprint on a dark shirt.
Bacon resignedly accepts the tradition, then shows off the hand print on her black shirt.
Davidson always ends the rock climbing excursion with another tradition: dinner at the Mongolian B-B-Que.
By 8 p.m., after three hours of intense climbing, the kids can’t wait to go for dinner, especially since they have worked up an appetite by using up hundreds of calories. But most of them don’t care about calories, they just like to play.