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CLIMBING CAN BE DONE INDOORS, TOO

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Climbing. It's like driving a car, says Andy Beerman. With training and practice, climbing and driving are safe and fun, but without it both can be dangerous and intimidating.

They're alike in another way, too. There are more drivers and climbers today than there were yesterday. This is especially so for climbing since the sport made a right turn a few years back and went indoors.Climbing has always been perceived as difficult and dangerous; climbers on 1,000-foot cliffs hanging by a rope and the tips of their fingers.

"That's the more traditional climbing, where climbers climb new routes, placing cams in the cracks in rock cliffs as they go, and doing several pitches (rope lengths) at a time. This type of climbing takes a lot of experience and equipment, and the danger can be high," says Beerman, manager of the indoor climbing center, Rockreation Climbing Gym.

"With the introduction of sports climbing, numbers have grown expeditiously. Sports climbing is done indoors or outdoor, with protection placed every eight feet. You don't need all the fancy equipment for sports climbing.

"Usually, the first ascentist, or the first person up the route, cleans it and puts in the protection, and then everyone else follows. Sports climbing is more like gymnastics movements. You'll see someone practice a route 10, 20, maybe 100 times to get it right.

"In sports climbing, people rehearse moves and push themselves to the limit because it's safe to fall. You're always on a rope and someone is always on the other end. And if you do fall it's only for a very short distance."

Sports climbing has brought new life to the sport. Heretofore, only the strong of body and mind climbed; rock-hard men and women with toes and fingers of steel, and limbs as hard as tree trunks. Climbing, most believed, certainly wasn't for everyone, especially not for kids.

But, says Beerman, that's changed. Kids are climbing now . . . out of the cribs, onto furniture, over fences and now up walls.

Currently, the climbing center is offering week-long classes for children 6 to 15. Cost is $99 and includes four days of indoor training and one of outdoor climbing.

The center also offers mini-camps called "Kids Time," which are two-hour daily sessions.

One problem Beerman sees is that many kids feel they can go out and learn to climb on their own. They see others climb, and think it's easy, like watching someone drive a car.

"Climbing is a safe sport, but you need to know the basics, like how to put on a harness or belay or tether a rope. You need to know how to set up climbs. This is knowledge you learn from guides or a climbing instructor, not from going out on your own or simply watching someone," he says.

"You hear a lot about climbing accidents, but actually they're usually hikers who try to imitate climbers, but don't have the basic skills they need."

Beerman says he's noticing that in many cases, instead of being out playing baseball or skateboarding, kids are now starting to hit the climbing gym after school.

"Children are," he says, "naturals for climbing. They're slender, have small fingers for gripping holds, are light weight and have incredible endurance. Also, they're uninhibited. Adults tell themselves they can't, while kids aren't afraid and see no reason why they can't."

Because of the adjustment features of club climbing walls, new and challenging routes can be continuously introduced, which keeps interest high.

Climbing gyms, too, are cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter to allow comfortable, year-round climbing experiences.

For outdoor climbing, Beerman says there are a number of prepared climbing routes along the Wasatch Front . . . "In all, somewhere around a thousand. Some are for beginners, some are for only the very best climbers." There are books available that can point out the different trails.

The most popular places to climb outdoors right now are American Fork and Big Cottonwood canyons.

Indoor or outdoor, sports climbing is gaining popularity. But, like driving, Beerman says, people should learn the basics before they climb.