Climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, especially after its inclusion in the 2021 Olympics and American Nathaniel Coleman’s podium finish.
Austin is fortunate to have a wealth of opportunities for climbers of all experiences and skill levels. In addition to building superb strength and stamina, the sport provides excellent lessons in logic and problem solving. Figuring out how to get from Point A to Point D is half the fun.
If you and your family are interested in giving it a try, here are some pointers.
Currently, we have two excellent climbing gym companies with two locations each: Austin Bouldering Project and Crux Climbing Center. They offer general day-pass admission along with structured climbing lessons and programs.
Even better, both gyms offer all levels of youth programs from parties to parents’ nights out to recreational and competitive teams. If you are looking for activities to keep your kids busy during school breaks, each offers week-long camps.
Climbing does require some special equipment; fortunately, the gyms provide rentals. You’ll need climbing shoes, which are long and narrow with stiff soles to help you balance on the tiniest of holds on the wall. Running shoes, with their flexible soles, won’t work.
Powdered chalk is another essential. Climbers dust it on their hands to absorb sweat so their hands and fingers don’t slip off holds. Be prepared to come home covered in the powder, possibly with a chalky handprint or two on everyone’s shirt. Climbers of all ages and abilities seem unable to resist putting chalk handprints on each other, especially if the other person is wearing a black shirt.
Currently, Crux South is the only gym that has roped climbing. If you and your kids want to give it a try, Crux provides rental harnesses.
Often climbers who have done a few sessions in a gym want to head outside to climb. Central Texas boasts some of the best climbing spots in the state, with areas at Enchanted Rock, Milton Reimers Ranch and the Barton Creek Greenbelt. However, climbing outside is very different from climbing in a gym, and you’ll need some extra equipment as well as instruction. It’s not as simple as heading out and finding big rocks.
There are two excellent companies that lead outdoor climbing sessions: Rock-About and Texas Climbing Adventures. In addition to providing expert instructors and guides, they supply the ropes, harnesses, crash pads and helmets you’ll need to climb safely in the wild.
Climbing is a unique sport that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone. Climbers like to hang and talk about climbing and provide tips to each other. Competitive climbers, especially at the elite levels, are all business on the wall, but once they are back on the ground they cheer on their competitors, no matter which team.
My oldest and youngest kids have been involved in competitive climbing for more than a dozen years, and their teammates are like a second family. The sport has provided lessons that help them outside of the gyms from learning to conquer fear to being willing to take on new challenges. So grab your kids and head out to one of the gyms. As they say in the sport, Climb On!
Heather O’Keeffe Gardner is a mom of four and mild-mannered copy editor. She has spent the past 13 years hanging out in gyms while her kids climb.