Finding the climber within

Fitness challenge: Indoor rock climbing

What is it?
Imitation rocks are fixed to a wall, with various gradients and difficulties. The climber is strapped into a harness with a carabiner, while a partner on the ground works as a counterweight, feeding the rope through the harness to ensure a safe ascent and acting as a "brake" in case of a fall.

The experience
After a brief safety lesson from the cheery blokes at the Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym, I begin my climb but quickly become stuck — and frozen with fear — halfway up the beginners' wall. I have the worst wedgie of my life and can't reach the next foot hole. "Let me down," I plead in an undignified manner. My partner acquiesces but can't hide his amusement. I've made the rookie mistake of joining uber-fit friends who climb for fun. They're quick, nimble and fearless — I hate them.

Still, I persevere. Strapped in my deeply unflattering harness, I attempt several easier climbs and enjoy an adrenalin rush when I reach the top of a wall, no matter how low it is. Once the panic subsides, it's actually quite fun. It's also hard work. My arms ache and tremble with fatigue.

Eventually I concede defeat and lie on one of the mats to watch enthusiastic climbers — from young children to buff dudes — scurry up and down the walls with monkey-like ability. I come to the conclusion that this is probably my preferred rock-climbing experience.

Worth it?
Overcome the fear of falling to certain death and rock climbing certainly offers a thrill. It's a great workout — I could barely raise my arms to wash my hair the following day — and a social outing that offers a strong bonding experience. Apparently they do a singles night — a questionable idea since the tight-fitting harnesses seem to highlight the general crotch area. One could get a little queasy.

Rating: 3/5

Try it
Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym, Unit 4C/1-7 Unwins Bridge Road, St Peters, (02) 9519 3325,, $26 (includes combo gear hire, $16 with own gear) for unlimited climbing time.

Climb-Fit, Unit 4/12 Frederick Street, St Leonards, (02) 9436 4600.