Everything You Need to Know to Start Indoor Rock Climbing With Your Family

published Jun 7, 2022
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Welcome to our new series on family hobbies, real advice from real families on how they spend time together, both inside and outside the home.

Who: Jon (39), Erica (40), Norah (12), and Clara (9) Grabb
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Family hobby: Indoor rock climbing

One of my favorite memories as a child is going indoor rock climbing with my best friend’s twin brother’s Boy Scout troop. I remember the feel of chalk on my hands, the trust that was involved as my friend and I took turns belaying each other, and my exuberant pride at reaching the top of a wall. We went a few years in a row, at an indoor warehouse in San Francisco, and it’s always been something I wanted to do again myself and wanted my children to experience. 

Interestingly, a family we’re honored to call good friends are avid indoor rock climbers. My oldest daughter has climbed with them and loved it. The activity is unusual enough to be intriguing, and it’s rigorous and mentally and physically challenging. While doing something like this alone is definitely worthwhile and exciting, engaging in an activity that involves cheering each other on and watching each other attain lofty heights (literally!) through hard work and determination is the stuff of family bonding and lifelong memories. 

I interviewed Jon and Erica. about their indoor rock climbing hobby that they enjoy with their two daughters, Norah and Clara, here in Tallahassee, Florida. 

How did you get into indoor rock climbing?

Jon has been indoor rock climbing for over 10 years. More recently, the family has joined him. Erica, Norah, and Clara started regularly climbing a year ago.

“Jon wanted to get into indoor rock climbing for a long time when he was growing up, and he finally got to make a habit of it when he first went to the Tallahassee Rock Gym (now called Alchemy Climbing). He climbed once or twice a week with friends for years and finally convinced the rest to go as a family activity about a year ago.”

We were looking for something fun we could do indoors that was relatively safe during the pandemic. The gym is huge and it was relatively easy to keep our distance from other climbers. Clara liked it so much she asked to join the weekly recreational climbing club that includes coaching instruction.”

What do you love about it? 

It’s exercise, excitement, and problem-solving all in one. The gym has a variety of different routes, for beginners all the way up to experts. The gym emphasizes that ‘every project is important,’ and we really take that to heart. We constantly set goals to challenge ourselves and push each other to reach them. The climbing community is very positive and encouraging. Clara especially likes to cheer on other kids she meets at the gym. Our gym changes up the routes so there’s always something new to try.” 

How did your kids take to it? 

“Norah is in dance classes 14 hours a week, so she’s accustomed to being physically active and flexible. She is able to get some pretty difficult routes and has made huge improvements over the last year. Clara was scared at first, only climbing six feet up before coming down on the auto-belay. Each week, she went a little farther and now she can easily do 5.5-5.7 routes. [Routes are rated according to a number system.] She’s so proud of how strong she’s becoming and how easily she can do routes she struggled with before.” 

Was there an initial cost to getting started with indoor rock climbing? If so, how much was the investment and how much does it cost to keep it up? 

“Our gym costs $18 for a day pass for adults and $16 for 12 and under and students. There’s an additional $10 charge for the shoe and harness rental. We do monthly passes and Jon, Erica, and Clara own their own gear. We pay $20 a month for Norah’s rental because we wanted to wait until her feet stopped growing to buy her her own shoes. We also paid for a top rope belay orientation so we can do our own belay instead of just using the auto belay or bouldering (without ropes) routes. We have our own belay devices and carabiners and Jon does have his own rope for lead climbing.”  

What are the must-have products or gear for this indoor rock climbing?

“You can usually rent, but at $10 a visit, it will save money to have your own gear if you want to climb regularly.” Remember that you can find many of these items used.  

What advice or tips do you have for other families wanting to take up indoor rock climbing?

“Safety rules are important. There will likely be a safety orientation. Be sure to encourage your children to follow the gym rules all the time. Start off renting gear and making sure you enjoy climbing and know how you want things to fit before purchasing your own gear. It’s challenging at first, but stick with it. You’ll be surprised how much you will improve in the first few sessions. Finally, regardless of your experience level, you can almost always learn tips and tricks from the staff and other patrons.”

What other information would you like to share?   

“As a family, we do top rope and bouldering. [More about each type of climbing below.] Jon does lead climbing with a friend so he has his own rope as well. Lead climbing requires special training but helps to prepare climbers and belayers for outdoor climbing experiences. We go as a family once or twice a week, usually Sunday afternoons and some Wednesday nights. We have free guest passes so we often bring one of the kids’ friends. Their parents just need to fill out a waiver and send or show ID.” 

What is bouldering? 

“Climbing without ropes. Bouldering walls are relatively low and climbers are encouraged to limit their climbs to only twice their own height. Routes are usually color-coordinated and are commonly referred to as ‘problems’ because they often involve some problem-solving and planning as you become more advanced. Indoor bouldering has crash pads and only requires climbing shoes for gear.”

Top rope climbing?

“Top rope climbing requires a harness and uses ropes that are attached to a bar or pulley system at the top of the wall. Top rope walls can be many times higher than bouldering walls and often involve more endurance. In traditional top rope climbing, one person climbs while a second person acts as their belayer. Belaying requires training and a belay device and carabiner. Many gyms now also include top rope climbing with an auto-belay mechanism that does the job of the belayer. A climber just needs a harness and to hook in on the auto-belay device.” 

Lead climbing? 

“The rope is not attached to the top of the wall in lead climbing. Instead, the climber must “clip in” to carabiners that are placed sporadically on the wall. Should the climber fall, the last carabiner that they have clipped is what will catch them. This can lead to some frightening falls but helps climbers and belayers prepare for outdoor climbing. Lead climbing is generally reserved for adults and advanced climbers as it requires specific training and gear for both the climber and the belayer.”

Thanks for sharing, Grabb family!