The night before most people get their wisdom teeth out, they lay in bed and chow down on candy and popcorn while they still can. But not for me — I decided to drive 25 minutes downtown during rush hour to attempt to rock wall climb for the first time on a whim.
Pulling up to RoKC, I had no idea what to expect. Afterall, my only glimpse into the world of rock wall climbing is from 12 years ago when there was a rock wall where I took gymnastics classes. Not to mention, the only research I did before my visit was to see if I should wear leggings or shorts.
Even for my unathletic self, rock wall climbing was genuinely fun, from the atmosphere to the thrill of where your next step will be.
For a reasonable price of $25 for a full day open gym pass — including a 10 percent student discount — I had unlimited access to yoga classes, a full gym, bouldering walls, climbing walls, plus shoe and harness rentals. RoKC has open gym almost everyday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and they also offer hour-long specialty training classes for every level of experience and difficulty. RoKC has two locations in downtown Kansas City, and a third location arriving soon in Olathe, making Kansas City almost like living in the Rockies!
After we signed our waivers, Dannon, our friendly instructor, took my friend and me for a tour of the industrial building, told us the basics of climbing, fitted us for shoes and harnesses and then we were off climbing within a quick 15 minutes of walking in the door.
We started with the 45-foot tall walls with auto-belays, which basically means you hook your harness onto a rope that gradually lowers you to the ground after your climb and is perfect for amateurs. And by amateurs, I mean myself, as the only thing I’ve climbed are the trees in my grandparents’ backyard when I was eight.
The climbs themselves were on a difficulty scale from zero to 10, with 10 being the hardest climb. Being the rock climbing noob that I am, I stuck around the zero to two range.
According to Dannon, rock climbing is similar to a sudoku or chess game, where you have to plan out several moves ahead of time so you aren’t holding onto where you need to be standing. As the wise man himself said, “It all comes with practice and patience” and man, do I believe that after getting stumped 20 feet up on my first climb.
Although the auto-belays are meant to help you repel and bounce down the walls once you reach the top, I opted for climbing half way down and then repelling once I got stuck or I felt comfortable with the height I was at. But that’s mostly because there were professional climbers surrounding me and I didn’t trust myself to fly down the wall smoothly.
As well as the 10 auto-belay systems that range from a variety of difficulties, RoKC also has over 40 climbs with different systems for more advanced climbers who know what they’re doing when it comes to top rope and lead climbing.
Because I was nowhere near Grand Teton ready, Dannon suggested that I stick to auto-belay climbing, and I agreed.
Along with the 12,000 square feet of expansive climbing walls, RoKC also offers thousands of square feet of boulder-shaped rocks that don’t require a harness. Bouldering was harder for me because the large rocks are so oddly shaped that it’s hard to hoist your foot up to the next hold when your body is at a 45 degree diagonal angle.
Even though I “retired” from sports years ago, I was able to muster up enough upper body strength to proudly complete six different runs on the towering walls, and even a few tries at bouldering.
RoKC was one of the chillest, laid-back sporting environments I’ve ever been in. From the sticker-covered foosball tables to the comfy couches, there’s no way anyone could feel uncomfortable here, even if they have no idea what the hell they’re doing. Sure, there were the rock climbing equivalents of meatheads viciously scaling the walls, but there were also groups of friends joking around as they climbed.
RoKC’s environment and staff made me feel right at home, even when I was suspended 40 feet above the ground, and I already have a pair of climbing shoes on my Christmas list.