Local Zen masters hone their bodies and minds to tackle vertical challenges

One grip at a time, rock-climbers sometimes move at a pace some would say rivals a snail’s. Nothing else matters when rock-climbers grasp on to the wall they are about to challenge – besides, most know what they say about the slow and steady winning the race.

These vertical masters of Zen find they are at their utmost comfort where many would succumb to sweaty palms, shaky knees and vertigo.

Steve Hands, owner of Crux Climbing and Bouldering (one of the highest climbing walls in Canada residing in an old warehouse in Calgary’s NE ) says that humans are made for the act of climbing.

“I honestly believe that climbing is what we’re built to do,” Hands says, the enormity of the 72 foot-high climbing wall a backdrop to his zeal and zest for the sport.

“Regardless of how we got here, climbing and long distance running are why we out-paced our fellow mammals,” Hands says.

Millions of years of evolution aside, Hands says that what makes a good climber is a heightened sense of body awareness and a keen mind to guide you along the wall on the safest route.

“It’s one of those sports you can’t just cheat your way through,” Hands says. “It requires the ability to flex everything in unison. It’s very much like dance, where you see the dancers’ body rigid while they move one leg.”

Remaining sharp and focused is key whether one is climbing inside or out. Hands says it is a constant appraisal of how a person is feeling.Climbers at the Crux Climbing and Bouldering gym have the choice of paths to climb that are laid out by markers on their 72-foot wall.
Photo taken by: Guillermo Barraza

Because of this methodical and meticulous version of vertical movement, Hands says that climbing is an exercise not based largely on cardio.

“As far as physical qualities work, it’s not a cardio workout,” Hands says. “You will gain muscle and control in your core and your obliques and your arms in general. The interesting thing about climbing is that there is no particular gym exercise that really prepares you for climbing.”

At the age of 20, avid outdoor climber Taran Ortlieb is working towards the adventure guide diploma at Thompsons Rivers University. He has his sights set on outdoor climbing as a profession and has been climbing for two years.

But his goal is not to make the pages of a magazine. Rather, he wants to guide people who are interested in getting high on nature.

To Ortlieb, it is a method of losing himself in the climb.

“I like all the focus that you need during a climb,” Ortlieb says. “It’s a focused sport but also very relaxing. You push yourself physically but also mentally.”

“It’s not an adrenaline-pushing sport,” he continues. “I think if you’re pushing adrenaline while you’re climbing you’re doing something wrong.

“It really helps clear the mind,” he states. “When you’re rock-climbing, you’re giving your undivided attention to the climb and you get lost in it mentally.”

Ortlieb has completed outdoor climbs such as Snake Dike in Yosemite, California, and the Squamish Buttress in Squamish, B.C.

Passionate outdoorsman Jordan Hunter, 25 began climbing as a bucket-list item to get over his fear of heights. Since then, he has climbed indoors at Crux and outdoors in Kananaskis.

Hunter regularly hikes and mountain bikes around the paths in Kananaskis, but says even with all the exercise he gets, climbing taught him more about his body than any other sport.

“I had to work on my flexibility to be able to bend a certain way, or reach a certain hold or get over a certain obstacle,” Hunter says. “It’s also a huge strength workout. You can always feel it in your hands. I have good leg strength from my biking but my upper-body strength has come a long way.”

For as long as they can, both Ortlieb and Hunter will continue to try for the top. Steve Hands would be the first to tell them to keep at it.

“Climbing is something you can do for your whole life,” Hands says. “You can do it with your whole family and it’s something you can do safely for as long as you want. There are people in their 60s who are climbing at the peak of their abilities as if they were in their 20s.”

gbarraza@cjournal.ca