Escape wintertime blues with indoor rock climbing

Richard Moreno/Nevada appeal Julia Moreno hangs around at the Rock Sport Indoor Climbing Center in Sparks.

Richard Moreno/Nevada appeal Julia Moreno hangs around at the Rock Sport Indoor Climbing Center in Sparks.

Recently, the kids wanted to get some exercise, but it was too cold to do much outside. So we decided to check out Rock Sport Indoor Climbing Center, which a friend had recommended, in Sparks.

Housed in a nondescript strip mall in West Sparks, we weren't sure what to expect. But appearances can be deceiving. We entered and were greeted by a helpful and experienced staff member, who told us everything we needed to know to get started.

The staff quickly fitted my children Julia and Hank with harnesses and shoes because they would be doing the climbing, and gave me a harness because I would be holding the rope.

The learning curve for rock climbing is easy. Basically, we were told that someone needed to climb and someone else had to hold the rope, which loops through a large metal pipe at the top.

A staff member explained how to tie the proper knots, the best way to hold the ropes, and how to ease the climber down gently after he or she is done (known as "belaying").

Julia wanted to go first, so we slipped the rope through her harness; tied the knot; cinched the rope to the anchoring person, which, in this case, was Hank; and wished her well.

She stared at the steep wall, which rises about 35 feet. Little, differently shaped, colored knobs, which serve as handholds and footholds, are bolted to the gray surface. She grabbed the lowest one and began pulling herself up the wall.

She actually did pretty well on her first try. She made it about halfway up the wall before signaling that she was tired and wanted to come down. To descend, she leaned away from the wall, hanging on to the rope, and Hank gently lowered her to the ground.

Next up was Hank. While never having tried rock climbing, he found the going easy. After securing himself to the rope, he quickly grabbed a handhold and began scaling the wall. In short order, he had scampered to the top and was ready to be lowered.

After that, the two alternated between which one would climb next. On her third attempt, Julia finally made it to the top of one of the easier climbs. (It was in use earlier so she had started out doing some of the more difficult climbs.) That particular wall has a bell at the top that beginners can ring when they reached the summit.

Hank made several assaults on the most challenging climbing walls - several are built to lean outward, so the climber is actually hanging away from the wall when climbing, while others have large shelves that must be climbed over - before sticking with the mostly diagonal climbs.

And when they wanted to rest from climbing the big walls, the two gravitated to several smaller rock faces in the center of the facility that didn't require ropes but allowed them to practice their climbing skills, including hanging upside down.

By the time they were both ready to call it quits, we realized that the time had passed so quickly that we'd managed to spend about half the day rock climbing.

n Richard Moreno is the author of "Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada" and "The Roadside History of Nevada."

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