Indoor rock-climbing; it doesn't stir the senses quite the way the outdoor version does, but allow me a moment to extol its virtues.
Drop into any climbing gym around Melbourne and you will find people are there for a variety of very good reasons. Some are die-hard climbers training indoors while they scheme their next trip to the Grampians. Many are there for fitness and see climbing as an alternative to regular gym or yoga sessions. Some cute pairings are on a date, and trying to spot them is an entertaining activity in its own right. Others are friends who have decided to catch-up over an activity other than latte sipping. At various times I have climbed indoors for all of the above reasons.
Climbers will find themselves in a friendly and supportive atmosphere, and on any day there will be a mix of first-timers, casuals, experienced climbers and kids who have been let loose by their parents to burn off energy. It's one of the few sporting activities where a complete stranger might stop to give you a few helpful tips or yell out some encouragement.
Melbourne has a good smattering of indoor climbing venues. Hardrock in Nunawadding and Cliffhanger in Altona North have routes to suit all abilities but are favoured by serious climbers as there are many long and overhanging routes available as well as bouldering areas. Bouldering is a style of climbing close to the ground with climbers landing onto thick mats rather than using ropes. Don't be fooled, to the uninitiated this may sound simple but bouldering requires large amounts of core, upper and lower body and finger strength.
All gyms run walk-up safety inductions for new climbers except Cliffhanger where you need to book in advance. Unless you are just bouldering or an experienced climber, you will climb on "top-rope" where the rope attached to your harness is run through an anchor in the roof and your partner controls the other end. You will be held up at all times and if you come off the wall you won't have a fall as such, but rather swing on the rope gently.
Look around and you may see someone "lead climbing" which is where the climber starts with the rope in a pile on the ground and clips into the wall every few meters. With this style of climbing a big fall, often accompanied by expletives, is possible. If you catch the climbing bug you may end up being this person one day. Welcome to the vertical world.
The writer climbing in Hardrock Nunawadding. Photo courtesy of Anthony Cuskelly.
I tried rock climbing once. I was rubbish. Part of the problem was my shoes; I was wearing hiking boots, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but they turned out to be too bulky to fit on the built in ledges.