Monday, November 15, 2010

Brooklyn Boulders

Once upon a time, four young men decided to pool their pennies and galleons to purchase an old warehouse in Brooklyn. Through hard work, imagination, and a shared love for rock climbing, they planned to magically transform the empty warehouse into the absolute coolest climbing gym in the New York area. For many long days afterward, they toiled with steel, plastic, rope, and paint in hopes of attracting the young, old, and adventurous to climb their peaks and valleys. Next, they forged trails of differently shaped colorful protrusions on their newly sculpted crags; easy, hard, and expert alike. In the early fall, when all their work was done, they crossed their fingers and opened the doors of their miraculous palace of rock, yearning that their work should not have been in vain. They waited for days and days with baited breath for the people of the village of New York to come sample the fruits of their efforts. One day, a village crier from the Village Voice decided to visit the four young men and their warehouse of rock. He climbed and climbed and then went out to the New York village and cried and cried about his magical experience at the wonderful place called Brooklyn Boulders. The villagers listened to the crier and poured into the doors of the transformed warehouse for many, many more days to come. And they all lived happily ever after.

So, obviously I’ve been reading the brothers Grimm lately, but Brooklyn Boulders is truly something out of a fairy tale. I liken it to a McDonald’s playland for adults. My three buddies (Erin, Erin, and Rachael) and I went to this Park Slope playland on Thursday afternoon for a 3pm climbing class. We walked in and were greeted by an interesting group of people sporting climbing belts and shoes and, for the most part, hanging from the ceiling. There was a group of 9-12 year old serious-looking boys on one side (we found later they were part of an intensive climbing workshop), a contingent of acne-ridden young mountain men, and a good amount of middle-aged yuppies in matching workout wear. We paid our $60 entry fee and donned our “climbing diapers” and shoes to join the fray. A session is pricey at $60, but it’s a pretty good investment considering what you get for your money. The fee rents all of your gear, pays for your instruction on how to climb and belay (and tie all of the knots to do safely do so) and covers two entire days of unlimited climbing.

Once we were suited up, our teacher Omar led us to a smaller room to begin our instruction in the ways of climbing. First, we learned to tie the knot that would, basically, hold us up. This knot was more than a little complicated . . . and it was a little scary that not one of us tied the hold-you-up-off-the-ground-so-you-don’t-plummet-to-your-death knot correctly the first time. Eventually, after we were all tied in, we learned the technique of belaying. For those of you novice climbers (like me), belaying is basically standing on the ground (or elsewhere) and maneuvering your side of the rope so that your partner on the other side of the rope in the air doesn’t (again) plummet to her death. Interestingly enough, this required significantly more coordination than climbing. We learned different techniques of feeding the rope, rock climbing language like “take the slack” and “on belay”, and how to maneuver the different colored paths up the many walls in the warehouse. After acquiring our new skills and trying them out a bit, Omar told us that we were ready to climb “the bridge”. Yes, folks, Brooklyn Boulders houses a climb-able replica of the Brooklyn bridge. We walked into the climbing arena and harnessed up. I climbed first. It was pretty darn hard. Hard, but exhilarating. Climbing the (much higher than the previous wall) bridge was challenging in that it required the perfect mix of mental and physical exertion. It was problem solving in a precarious position and I loved the challenge. A corporeal su doku, of sorts. “If I put my left foot on that one, I can reach around that corner to hold with my left hand while I move my right foot one rock up and then step on it”, I thought. When I got to the top, I looked down for the obligatory photo op and repelled toward Rachael (my belay-er) to switch roles. After we had climbed the bridge, Omar gave us the official “you’re on your own”, wished us happy climbing, and left. We were free to climb anything anywhere. Opa!

Erin and I walked around and climbed course after course. There were hundreds of options. Crags hung from the ceiling like bumpy stalactites (how one would even start to climb that, I don’t know), there were rocks that jutted out of the floor such an angle that climbers were almost parallel to the ground, and over practically every surface of every wall were colored rocks to climb, rated by their complexity. I would no sooner repel from one rock than I would hop to the next, excited to find a new way to scale to the ceiling. We climbed and climbed until I looked down and saw blood blisters on my hands. Hmm . . . time to quit. For the day, anyway. We were dirty, exhausted, and fabulously happy. 

Before we left, we took a walk around the rest of the facility. It was huge. More than one room was equipped with odd things for which I could not discern a function. One guy was walking a tightrope stretched between two rocks while a woman behind him pondered a set of rocks that hung from the ceiling like chandeliers. There was a yoga studio, two outhouse-like dressing rooms, and in the back of the joint, we found the construction site that was to be another huge room of rocks to climb. I was magically transformed into an eight-year-old trying to climb the tree in front of our house. I looked at the parallel climbs that were soon to be constructed on the drying rock face and made my own plans . . . to return as soon as possible to the magical palace of rock.

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