By Leah Jones, Features Editor

Their hands bleed. Their bodies ache. Indoor rock climbers climb anyway.

Climbers have two options when they climb. They can either sport climb a tall wall, or they can climb a boulder. In both variations, athletes follow color-coded routes to reach the top of the wall or the boulder. Sport climbers strap into a harness and rope and scale a tall wall, which generally rises 40 to 60 feet in the air. Bouldering climbers scramble up a large faux “rock,” known as a boulder. The boulder rises only about 15 feet into the air, though climbers free climb on the boulder—meaning they climb without the use of a harness or ropes. Sport climbs often require more sustained effort and endurance over a longer period of time, since the routes are longer. In contrast, the shorter bouldering routes require more intense bursts of energy.

Setters rate bouldering routes on a V-scale. V0 indicates a less challenging bouldering route. As the numbers increase, so does the difficulty of the climb. Indoor rock climbing gyms often boast bouldering routes that are rated up to V10. More advanced climbers develop techniques such as flagging (sticking one foot out as a counter-balance), heel hooks (resting some of their weight on their heel, instead of the ball of their foot), toe hooks (also known as a bat-hang, in which climbers rest some of their weight on their toes), and dynos (an explosive move in which climbers jump off of the wall in order to make it to the next move).

Some indoor rock climbing gyms have top-out boulders, which allow climbers to finish climbs by crawling onto the top of the boulder. Others do not top out, and climbers must drop onto mats once they complete the routes.

Climbers have several options when they sport climb. Climbers may clip into an auto-belay device, which will catch them and lower them down slowly when they fall or complete the route. Climbers can also top rope, in which they use a figure eight knot to tie into one end of a rope that is wrapped around a pulley system at the top of the wall. A belayer stands on the other end of this rope and pulls up slack as the climber ascends the wall.

More advanced climbers lead climb. These climbers tie into a rope that is not already attached to the top of the wall and instead go up with a rope. They clip their rope into clips that are bolted to the wall every five to seven feet, and use these clips as their anchors. A lead belayer stands on the other end of this rope and takes up slack or gives slack as needed.

While more challenging, lead climbing can also be more dangerous because  climbers must ensure that they clip in correctly, watch their footwork, and be prepared for falls of up to 10 feet or more. Setters rate sport routes by the Yosemite Decimal System, which was originally used to rate hiking trails. The number five indicates a vertical grade, and the number and letter after the five indicates the difficulty of that climb. Climbs rated 5.6 are fairly easy climbs, while climbs rated 5.10a or higher can be quite challenging.

Climbers reap the benefits of both a strength and cardio workout. While rock climbing clearly counts as a strength training exercise, cites a study published by The British Journal of Sports Medicine in 1997 which found that climbers also experienced elevated heart rates equivalent to that of moderate joggers. While climbing clearly has health and fitness benefits, students may find it to be an expensive sport. Climbers must pay for entrance into a climbing gym, as well as rent or purchase a harness if they want to sport climb.

Though not necessary, many climbers also either rent or own special climbing shoes and chalk to enhance their climbing.  Students at the University of Missouri—St. Louis, however, have access to the Recreation and Wellness Center’s rock climbing wall, harnesses, shoes, and chalk as a part of their tuition.

The UMSL Climbing Center boasts a tall wall that rises 32 feet into the air and a bouldering wall that rises 12 feet into the air. The wall was designed by Entre Prises USA, an Oregon-based company that makes custom climbing walls and manufactures climbing holds. Over the summer, the tall wall is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday. During the school year, the tall wall is open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday.

The bouldering wall has more flexible hours, and is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday over the summer. During the regular school year, the bouldering wall is open from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information on UMSL’s climbing wall, visit online at climbingcenter/index.html.

For information on the health benefits of climbing cited in this article, read it on the Livestrong website at