Stacey Margaret Jones: I Love You, Wall – A Rock Climbing Odyssey


My effort to try new fitness activities for this column has now taken me to new heights, literally.

Noticing this series detailing the Fitness Odyssey activities Angel and I have sampled, our mutual friend Melissa, who owns the Little Rock Climbing Center with her husband Logan, invited us to try their facility and offered to provide complimentary day passes. Angel couldn’t make it, but I immediately put it on my calendar. I’ve seen a number of Facebook friends posting photos from climbing adventures both outdoors and at the Little Rock center, and I was curious.

I was also nervous, because I get a little jittery when confronted with heights. Even one flight of open stairs gives me a faint case of vertigo. I knew it would definitely be something fun and different, though, and I was eager to test what I knew about the sport.

Several years ago, Logan was telling me how much he thought I, as a runner and cyclist, would like climbing. After my heights disclaimer, I said I really didn’t think it is a good fit for me, because I don’t have a lot of upper-body strength. How could I scale those walls without strong arms to pull me up? Logan explained that climbers need strength in their legs, more than arms and torso, because that’s how they power themselves up the wall or rock face. I was pretty sure he was wrong.

Last night I learned he was right. As I was scaling up different climbing routes (not too far up!), I followed the advice of the center professionals by finding grips for my hands, planting my feet and then simply standing up. That’s essentially how you climb: Just keep finding ways to stand up on the wall. And Logan was right that the ability to do that resides in the lower body.

I also found great correlations with some of the other classes I’ve taken: The principle of keeping my chest and face directed upward is similar to ballet, and the flexibility required built on my yoga and Pilates training.

When I arrived, I signed a waiver and noticed the ubiquity of signs reading, “Climbing is dangerous!” with tips and strategies for the safest possible experience. I received a brief and effective tutorial on how to use the belay (the rope and pulley systems from which climbers are suspended) from Scott, a center employee, after I rented a harness and climbing shoes.

Once schooled, I climbed with Melissa and our friend Tina, both of them active and accomplished all-around athletes. They worked the manual belay for a few of my climbs, and gave me tips as I tried different routes, reminding me not to clutch the heck out of the wall with my hands, but to keep moving and standing. Both of them let me know if I got too high and wasn’t comfortable, I could just come down.

This is when my love affair with the wall began. Once I got high enough (or a little too high) and decided to come down, I confronted the instinctive desire to just cling to my position or even climb down. What I could not resolve was that to end the climb, I had to let go of the wall, and the belay would slowly lower me to the padded floor.

I looked around and saw other climbers simply letting go. Scott had showed it to me, on both the manual and automated belay systems, and I’d seen Tina and Melissa push off from the top of the walls, more than two storeys up, and float delightfully down.

But I could not let go. Every part of my mind and body was opposed to falling, and when you look down, it seems a lot higher up, than it did when you were standing on terra firma appraising the climb.

“Wall! I love you!” Tina called up, making a smooching noise. I counted down from three and let go between 2 and 1, felt the tension of therock climbing photo copy automatic belay engage – not enough to jerk me, but just enough to allow me to float downward, lightly walking down the wall when I swung back toward it. Later, I was even more appreciative of the system when I fell after losing my grip on two teeny-tiny out-croppings. One second I was pressed against the wall, confidently moving up, the next I was in the air, held aloft by the magic of rope and physics. I was shaky for 20 minutes after that one, but I didn’t stop taking my turn.

The Little Rock Climbing Center has frequently changing climbing routes that are numbered for difficulty (a 5.2 route is easier than a 5.10 route, for example). Each route has a date by which it will come down, so climbers working on getting up specific routes will have a deadline and always something new to aspire to.

The Center also offers classes, such as lead climbing and yoga, as well as personal training. The energy and sense of fun in the room is palpable when you walk in, and I’m eager to return with Angel and my husband. I went on WOW night, “Women on Wednesday,” which gives free gear rentals and belay lessons to women with the purchase of a pass from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (I mistakenly thought that men weren’t allowed on Wednesdays, and I was sorry I missed an opportunity to bring my husband on a Fitness Odyssey adventure.)

One of the things I really like about the experience is that you purchase a pass for the day and can do what you like while you’re there. Because it’s not an organized class experience, I didn’t feel pressured to go higher than I was comfortable or try routes that were beyond my neophyte abilities. I enjoyed the time with my friends as well as their encouragement. We were there for about an hour and a half, and the only person pushing me was me.

The next day, I was pleasantly sore in my upper back and arms, confirming I had had an effective workout. I would like to add climbing at the Little Rock center to my routine from time to time to help me confront my fear of heights and improve my strength, flexibility and balance.

And, of course, to nurture my exciting new love affair with the wall.

What:  Little Rock Climbing Center
Located: 12120 Colonel Glenn Road #7000
Little Rock, AR 72210
What to wear: Comfortable fit-wear, fitted is probably best, and thin socks if you’re renting shoes. Leave your jewelry at home.
Degree of difficulty: Climb as high or low or as much or little as you like. A day pass allows you in-and-out privileges all day. What you do is up to you.
Price: Day passes are $12, a one-time belay instruction session is $6 and equipment can be rented as needed. Weekly specials are listed on the Website.

If you have a fitness studio or teach an exercise class you would like Stacey Margaret and Angel to try, send an email to and invite them!

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