If I had to describe my friend Mat as I remember him from our jaunty high school days, I would bluntly say, “skinny.”
So it surprised me, when I ran into him during my trip back to the East Bay this year, that he looked like he’d been making a living as Jason Statham’s body double. In other words, he was ripped. In fact, the first word I blurted out when I saw my stalwart friend walking toward me was, “How?”
He simply replied: “Rock climbing.”
I couldn’t believe that rock climbing formed this impressive figure. He confirmed some of my doubts when he said he also runs for an hour on his off days and lifts weights for a half hour after each climb. He informed me that rock climbing mainly builds endurance and strengthens core muscles. Surprisingly, his main reason for climbing isn’t the workout itself but the challenge and sheer enjoyment of conquering another route or beating his best time on the ascent to the top.
I didn’t take him up on his offer to join him at the rock climbing gym that afternoon, but after considering his accolades on the exercise decided to begin climbing. Portland, incidentally, offers a wide range of opportunities for those interested in pursuing the art of scaling the cracks and crevices of faux and real mountainsides.
The Portland Rock Gym is the largest rock climbing center in Oregon and features an immense array of slabs (rock faces at angles less than 90 degrees) and overhangs (rock faces at angles of more than 90 degrees). I may have gotten a shot of overconfidence after I conquered a simple slab during my first attempt, because I thought I could handle the mushroom boulder—a curved edifice that resembles a giant mushroom. Thankfully, no one was looking when I fell on my butt in my attempt to reach the cap. Pro tip: Don’t imagine yourself as Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger, because it will most likely end in failure.
For the student rock climber needing a quick fix, Portland State is home to the Climbing Center Wall, a 32-foot high, arched monolith in the Academic and Student Rec Center. The Climbing Center offers bouldering (rock climbing without the use of ropes), top-roping (the classic style of rock climbing with a harness and rope), and classes on belaying (the practice of managing the rope of a climber) and climbing movement for beginners.
To be honest, the bruise on my rear is quickly becoming a purple symbol of discouragement for my future in rock climbing. Then again, I’m not an agile person, and simply running around downtown Portland—the safest form of exercise, in my opinion, except for the “out-of-my-way” cyclists—is sufficient for me.
However, if you enjoy testing your endurance and the prospect of building up enough muscle to look like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, or even if you’re looking for a fun new activity during the summer, check out rock climbing. If you do get ripped, just remember to curb the impulse to tell people that you must break them.