What Exactly Is This Climbing Community?

Parents are often drawn to climbing as a good activity for their kids based on the characteristics of the community they observe in action when they visit a gym.  As someone famous (yes, I know who) once said, it takes a village to raise a child.  That village consists of a lot of elements happening outside the home – schools, after school activities, camps, and even friendships.  These parents see the climbing community as offering a good example for their kids, a solid, supportive part of the village.

So what does that community look like?  Not necessarily what your child will participate in at the outset, and certainly as a young child, but what type of community is being modeled by the older community participants?   

Let’s look at Miguel, a composite of the typical climber.  He has a college degree and is working 40 hours per week at his first job out of school at a local, well-known tech company.  He has no current steady partner (but is absolutely open to the possibility).  He lives with two roommates.   He visits his local climbing gym most nights after he gets off.  By no means does he consider the gym his exercise place. Rather, he considers it his community meeting place.  He will get his workout in over the course of his visit, but the focus is joining his community for a few hours.  Yes, a few hours.

First, he usually, heads to the café and orders his favorite espresso drink.  He sees a couple friends and chats with them for 15 or 20 minutes at the café bar.  Stephanie who recently launched her own marketing company.  Justin who just graduated from high school and is trying to figure out the next step.  Sarah who is in a UC Davis PhD. program.  When done, he straps on his climbing shoes and moves down to the warm up area to warm up the muscles he’ll need to climb.  He sees several other people he has seen at the gym before, but never met, and strikes up a conversation with them as he limbers up.  After 20 or 30 minutes of this, he moves over to the climbing area and sizes up what has changed in terms of routes since his last visit.

He typically spends the next couple hours moving around the gym, climbing with different people he knows and often people he doesn’t know, which is where the seeds of new friendships are borne.  With any particular group, he’ll often be trying to “send” (i.e., complete) a route while others are trying the same or nearby routes.  He’ll give it a hard try, fall, and then sit back on the mat and get a couple minutes rest while offering support to one of his fellow climbers. Then he’ll try again.  Other climbers will often share “beta” information about how to climb the route he is attempting.  Or they’ll talk about work, or where they are going to climb outdoors next, or their passion project.  If he sees a nearby climber struggling with a route, he’ll typically offer him or her some form of support – encouragement, ideas.  

After an hour or two, and a thousand calories burned, he’ll conclude his climbing session and do a short spell on the treadmill or stationary cycle.  Then he’ll head back to the café for a locally brewed kombucha and fun conversation with more friends.

So what did the experience involve? Friends, activity, learning, sustenance, collaboration, support, and physical and mental, and often emotional, stimulation.Community. I don’t know about you, but one thing I have learned in life is that true happiness doesn’t come from money, position, or even achievements. It comes from being a part of and contributing to a healthy, supportive community. Impacting other people’s lives positively and sharing this human experience with other like-minded people. And after being a parent of youth and now adult climbers for many years, the climbing community, while not perfect, is as close to what I consider an ideal model. My son and I feel so strongly about this that we built one of the country’s top climbing gyms in Sacramento (www.theboulderfield.com), with the primary focus on building and supporting community for all. Check us out!

-David Traversi

david traversi