At one with the rock

Ask veteran rock climber John Weston Wimberly what he gets out of climbing and he says simply, “Peace of mind.

“It’s really what it is for me — finding that Zen. You’re climbing up, you’re focusing on your breathing, and the birds are chirping and you look back and the view is incredible. It’s like the moment of humility and oneness. It’s like a meditation.”

Wimberly, a self-employed carpenter who lives in Brevard, got turned on to climbing at age 13 through an N.C. Outward Bound excursion.

“After that I was just so hooked,” he recalls, adding, “I love climbing.”

Eleven years later, Wimberly still goes out two or three times a month to climb in WNC and across the Southeast.

Despite that dedication, however, Wimberly’s perspective on his passion seems far from the aggressive approach favored by some enthusiasts in every sport.

“It’s all about your connection with your ability and nature,” he muses. “It’s not about conquering nature, either. It’s about being one with it and moving through it gracefully.”

Jessica Tomasin, who manages ClimbMax Climbing Center, takes a similar tack.

“It’s one of the few things I can do that I don’t have to multitask,” she observes. “When I’m climbing, I’m not thinking about anything else but the next move. … It’s kind of a form of meditation for me.”

Besides, hanging off a rock face is hardly the place to be distracted.

“Climbing is a dangerous sport,” concedes Tomasin. “So you need to be on your toes and focused on what you’re doing.”

And though both climbers love the outdoor experience, they also say an indoor facility like ClimbMax has its place.

Wimberly climbs indoors on rainy days and in the evenings. Indoor climbing also lets him exercise different sets of muscles and practice working out “problems” (a climbing term for finding a route up a rock).

And then there’s the little matter of safety.

“The risk factor is a whole lot different,” he notes. “There’s no rubber at the bottom of a rock.”

Mountain Sports Festival co-founder (and ClimbMax owner) Stuart Cowles also points to the enhanced accessibility provided by an indoor climbing center.

“I think it offers the convenience and comfort of the hours and the controlled environment,” says Cowles. “But it also provides a great platform for someone to try it out and sample it.”

Besides catering to people who just want to spend a few hours having some fun (including Cowles’ own mother), the indoor gym makes a great segue into the outdoor environment, Cowles notes.

As with most sports, however, getting into outdoor climbing requires an initial investment. At a minimum, Wimberly estimates that a harness, rope and belay device would run around $200-$300; a good pair of climbing shoes will add another hundred bucks or so. Folks who prefer bouldering (climbing without ropes) can get away for less — just the price of a boulder pad ($80-$150) and shoes. Happily, though, most of the equipment can last for years.

Cost aside, some people rule out trying climbing because of misconceptions about the sport. Many women, notes Tomasin, believe they don’t have enough upper-body strength. Depending on the angle of the rock (or wall), however, a given route may not require a lot of upper-body strength.

“It’s really a combination of balance and technique and strength,” she reports.

And those concerns may be less prevalent among the younger set. In the last few years, Tomasin says she’s seen more girls getting into the traditionally male-dominated sport.

“It’s not just for the boys anymore,” she notes with evident satisfaction, adding, “I love to see it.”

And with both competitions and a climbing tower on the menu, The Mountain Sports Festival offers opportunities for sampling the sport firsthand as well as seeing others in action.

“I would highly recommend people to come out and just watch it,” says Tomasin.

Adds Wimberly, “I say, watch it and then do it.”

Schedule and more info

All-ages climbing competition, Saturday, June 1, 9 a.m., ClimbMax Indoor Climbing Center (43 Wall St., downtown Asheville).

The national series of the U.S. Competition Climbing Association (formerly the Junior Competitive Climbers Association) holds a points-based competition for youths and adults in bouldering, top roping and lead climbing. Five youth age groups compete, along with recreational-level and advanced-level adults. Top finishers can advance to the national competition in Oregon.

Other competitions will include a dyno (for “dynamic”) competition — in which climbers jump up to see who can grab the highest hold on the climbing wall — and a speed-climbing contest.

For spectators and competitors alike, a live deejay and an appearance by superstar climber Kurt Smith will boost the fun level. La Sportiva (a shoe company) will offer shoe demos, too.

Cost: $35 to compete (includes T-shirt). For more info, call 252-9996.

Climbing Tower, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, Festival Center, City/County Plaza, downtown Asheville.

N.C. Outward Bound offers a one-of-a-kind climbing tower that features a 30-foot-tall inflatable tube covered with hand- and foot-holds arranged to challenge beginning, intermediate and advanced climbers.

How does it work? You start on the ground, working with an Outward Bound instructor to put on a harness/helmet and tie into a climbing rope. Then you begin working your way up the tower. As you proceed, the giant tube sways gently, adding a new challenge that’s quite different from a traditional climbing wall. From there, you’re lowered gently to the ground.

N.C. Outward Bound also is conducting several “Leave No Trace” workshops, including one on climbing, scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Pack Square.

To pre-register for the workshop, visit www.ncoutwardbound.com/workshops.html; you can also sign up at the festival. For more info, visit the Outward Bound booth at City/County Plaza.

A rock star’s slide show, Saturday, June 1, 7:30 p.m., Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company (675 Merrimon Ave. in Asheville).

Kurt Smith, world-renowned rock climber and storyteller, will present a free slide show of his recent adventures. Smith is on a Kicking Access tour to raise money for the Access Fund, which aims to keep areas across the country open for climbing. Proceeds from a festival raffle will go to the Access Fund; donations will also be accepted.

A day on the rock, Sunday, June 2, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., meet at ClimbMax Indoor Climbing Center (43 Wall St., downtown Asheville) before heading out to the Pisgah National Forest.

If you want to get out on a rock, a guided day of climbing may be just the ticket. No experience is needed; space is limited to six participants. Cost: $75/person (including equipment). A deposit is required. Registration is required by May 31.

For more info, call ClimbMax at 252-9996. To register on-line, visit: www.discoverashevilleoutdoors.com.

Open climbing, Sunday, June 2, 2-6 p.m., ClimbMax Indoor Climbing Center (43 Wall St., downtown Asheville).

You, too, can try your hand at climbing in a secure, indoor environment. “Bouldering” is unroped climbing; the height limit for bouldering at ClimbMax is about 10 to 12 feet off the ground. The family-oriented session is suited to first-timers and experts alike. No experience is necessary.

Cost: $8.50/person; $30/family of four for two hours on the wall. Climbing shoes are available for a small fee. Fees increase for climbing higher than 12 feet or using ropes.

For more info, call 252-9996.

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