Smile Politely

Let’s try rock climbing at Urbana Boulders

a tan woman with dark curly hair sits at the top of a gray wall. she is wearing a white sweatshirt with the words Illinois, navy leggings, and rock climbing shoes. she is making a peace sign.
Louise Knight-Gibson

Have you ever bouldered? According to my favorite search engine, bouldering is a style of rock climbing done close to the ground without ropes or harnesses. I had never tried it before but my seven year-old daughter has gone to Urbana Boulders a few times and loved it, so I naively assumed it would be a piece of cake. I showed up overly confident on a quiet weekday afternoon.

a cloudy sky hangs over a gray building with two large windows. the right side of the building has colorful painted squares and two picnic tables out front.
Louise Knight-Gibson

I was immediately happy because the outside had a colorful mural painted on one side which really speaks to my millennial heart. Inside, there were only five or six other people. The staff (complete with a pup) were incredibly friendly and after having me complete a waiver, pay for a day pass, and find the right size shoes, they walked me through the basics.

a colorful painted wall has a bookshelf in front of it. A corner of a rock climbing wall is in the top right corner of the image.
Louise Knight-Gibson

The colorful rocks on the walls are actually routes that range in difficulty from V0-V9. You pick a route (rocks of the same color), start with your hands on the rocks where the tape lines are, and follow the route up to the top of the wall. 

a white peg wall has rocks of various colors and shapes and tape in different colors to illustrate the climbing routes.
Louise Knight-Gibson

To complete my tour we went over the rules, the correct falling positions, and walked around the rest of the building. There is a weight room, various finger strength devices, and a couple of cozy spots for tea or board games. Then I was off. I started in the back room because it was empty, but I was still a little intimidated staring down a wall full of colorful rocks. I eventually gathered up my courage and started on a V0 route. As I attempted to figure out the grips and how to push and pull myself to the next step I quickly realized that this might be a little more challenging than I was expecting.

a tan woman with dark curly hair is stretched out reaching for a climbing rock. she is wearing a white sweatshirt with the words Illinois, navy leggings, and rock climbing shoes. she is laughing.
Louise Knight-Gibson

After completely failing at the first route I attempted, I tried a different one on a wall close by. This one had a more direct route and I made it to the top on my first try! It definitely went straight to my head and I congratulated myself for being such a natural bouldering athlete. I was all set to get signed up for my annual pass but as I climbed down, I started to feel my forearms tighten up and I also noticed I was sweating. By the time I made it to the bottom and laid down on the large cushioned floor my arms were quivering and I was breathing heavily. After a few minutes, the burning subsided and I was ready to go again.

a tan woman with dark curly hair climbs up a grey rock wall with colorful rocks. she is wearing a white sweatshirt, navy leggings, and rock climbing shoes.
Louise Knight-Gibson

I headed to the chalk dispenser and tried (with various levels of success) a few more routes. With each attempt, my dreams of professional rock climbing dwindled as my muscles and hands got more and more sore. But despite the pain, I actually had such a good time. There were a lot of routes to try out and I never felt judged, even though I had no idea what I was doing. Everyone there kind of gives you your own space, some people have headphones in, and it just seems like everyone is there to do their own thing. As an introvert, I love this. Solving each route and getting to the top is so rewarding and the challenge of pushing yourself up the wall over and over is addicting.

a big room with a ping pong table in the foreground a yellow chair, and a black couch. The wall has a brightly colored mural with a female rock climber.
Louise Knight-Gibson

I “bouldered” for about an hour and can attest that two days later, all of my upper body muscles are still sore. I’m not going to lie — my hands and forearms hurt just typing out this article. However, if you are looking for something new and fun to do, and don’t mind limited motor control for a few days, I would highly recommend trying out Urbana Boulders. They have a free class coming up called Intro to Bouldering on May 3rd at 5:30 p.m. The class will be led by their instructor Natalie and you only need to wear comfy clothes and bring a water bottle. I’m looking forward to trying it again soon.

Urbana Boulders

1502 N Cunningham Ave
M-F 12 to 10 p.m.
Sa and Su 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Culture Editor

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