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A guide for new climbers

Advice from Vital employees and Western students

Western Washington student Finbarr Anderson scales the wall at Vital Climbing Gym on Oct. 6, 2022. Anderson is a member at Vital and has been climbing for 6 months. // Photo by Paul Kalifatidi

Chalk floats through the air. Thumping feet hit the mat-covered floor. Athletes cling to colorful round holds that cover the high walls, pure strength and stamina holding them in place. This is Vital Climbing Gym.

Finbarr Anderson, a new climber as of April 2022 and a third-year student at Western Washington University, said when people start climbing, they generally find their skill level rapidly advances.

 “I didn’t start very good at climbing, but you progress a lot in your first couple of times climbing. You can feel that improvement pretty much directly after you go,” Anderson said.

 Ike Balmer, a coach at Vital and a fourth-year Western student, said the physicality of climbing is one of his favorite parts.

 “I like the way it makes my body feel,” Balmer said. “It makes me feel in tune with it. I know what’s going on.”

 Unfortunately, rapid improvement is often short-lived.

Vital Assistant Manager Maddie Downie said that it’s common to hit a stopping point in the fast progression after a while.

“Everybody hits that plateau. The hardest part is working through it and to keep climbing even if you aren’t doing any better than you were,” Downie said. “Having the determination and mental stamina to keep going is the biggest thing.”

Indoor climbing gyms are structured so many people can watch others as they scale the walls. This can be a point of anxiety for new climbers, Downie noted.

“I was really intimidated at first by the idea of Vital, the idea of a climbing gym…it ended up being a really good time. There was a learning curve having to get out of my own head and learn to climb when other people were here,” Downie said.

While this may prove an obstacle when first starting climbing, Balmer has some advice for new climbers.

“Don’t think about anything. Sometimes when you’re climbing, thinking is bad,” Balmer said. “Think about what you want to get out of it. Do you want to get better at climbing? Do you want to get fit? Do you want to just get ingrained in a new community?”

Paul Kalifatidi, head coach at Vital, added that while comparison when climbing is a tough barrier to get through, it’s important to remember that everyone is climbing at their own pace.

“Your failures are on display - It’s 90% failure. Everybody’s falling off the wall,” Kalifatidi said. “You have to get over comparing yourself to other people in the gym, and just understand that everybody’s struggling, everyone’s failing.”

Kalifatidi said if he had to describe climbing in one word, it would be“intimate.”

“Climbing itself is a relationship with yourself… it’s scary, it’s difficult, it’s challenging,” Kalifatidi said.

Vital Climbing Prices Visual.png
Visual of Vital Gym Prices. Western students get a 5% discount when they purchase a membership. // Visual by Chloe Nelson

At Vital, the community is incredibly important because of the encouragement and support.

“I love the community probably the most. Everyone’s supportive and friendly and wants to see everyone get better and do well in life as well,” Balmer said.

Kalifatidi agreed, adding that he wants to remind new climbers that everyone wants to watch you get better.

One way to improve is taking Bouldering 101, taught by Balmer. The class meets every Thursday at Vital from 6-7 p.m. 

There is no age limit in these classes or minimum skill level.

“Most of the people who take the class have never climbed before in my experience, which is really cool,” Balmer said. “I really enjoy a fresh perspective on climbing.”

One thing Downie wants people to feel is that climbing is for everyone.

“Climbing isn’t just a niche sport that only certain people can do. It can be something that people of all genders, all races, all ages can do. Vital encourages diversity,” Downie said. “We just want to be an open space for people to explore the sport, and for everybody to be in.”

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