I take it back. Bouldering is not better than top-roping. Bouldering is just different. I've realized climbing a wall – where the fear of falling ads to the challenge and the thrill – is an equally valuable and often more fun kind of climbing. I spent much of this past weekend top-roping and I've fallen in love.
I can get up to 5.9 routes on the wall now, though I can't do them clean (or flash, I believe it's called, when you ascend the route without falling or resting in your harness).
Some things I've worked on and learned, both in the Saturday technique course and with friends who are awesome climbers:
1. There are three very useful moves to get you up the wall: drop-knee (in which you bring your inside knee in close to the wall and turn your body towards the hold in front of you), back step (in which you step one foot up onto a hold behind you to reach a hold behind you) and flagging (in which you counter-balance your weight by bringing one foot up to smear without using a foot hold). I can do all of them in practice, but using them on a climb... not so much. My technique goes to shit when I'm halfway up a wall and breathing hard and trying not to fall off a tiny crimp because my hands are all sweaty. I must look like a frog trying to hold onto a tiny branch that's way to small for me, rather than a butterfly gracefully floating up towards the top of a rose bush. Which is why practicing laps on a 5.6 route are ideal, and why I really need to do more laps.
2. Falling is not a bad thing once to get used to it. Falling is not nearly as scary as I'd imagined it would be. If you fall, the rope will catch you – quite smoothly in fact, because the rope stretches. This means, of course, that you swing away from the fall and drop a foot or two, but then the harness takes your weight in a seated position and your feet contact to the wall again, and there you go. You're able to take a rest, chalk your hands and re-assess your route.
3. Route reading is essential. As my instructor Daniel says, reading the route (imagining yourself climbing it, deciding where you'll place your hands and feat as you go) is a way to do it for free the first time, without expending any energy.
4. Climbing becomes a mild obsession not long after you get into it. This weekend I climbed from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, and again on Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. and I wanted to go again tonight after work but figured I'd better take at least one rest day to avoid strains or injuries. The motivation to go to the climbing gym is the climbing itself, unlike a regular gym where you have to trick yourself into going to get a workout on the treadmill or the bench press or whatever.
I LOVE CLIMBING!!