Rock Climbing in San Diego
When it comes to indoor rock climbing in San Diego, you have two choices*: Solid Rock or Vertical Hold.
- read about types of indoor climbing
- read about equipment that you may need
- compare Solid Rock to Vertical Hold
*There are other places with climbing walls though they may not be easily accessible: both the UCSD and SDSU have climbing walls, and the New Children's Museum has an indoor climbing wall for kids.
Types of Indoor Rock Climbing
Basically, there are 3 types : bouldering, top-roping, and lead climbing. Here's what they mean in common language:
Top-Roping is what most people think of when they think of indoor climbing. A long rope is hung from the top of the climbing wall. It is looped over so both ends hang down towards the floor. One end is tied to the climber and the other end is tied to the belayer. The climber climbs (obviously) and the belayer holds the rope so that the climber does not fall to the ground. The slack in the rope is removed as the climber ascends. The rope is released in a controlled fashion when the climber descends.
Bouldering is when you rock climb but relatively close to the ground. You use the hand holds to maneuver yourself horizontally. You can move up, but usually not above 6 feet high. Bouldering can be easy and fun, or you can use it as an opportunity to practice/perfect difficult skills. You can boulder by yourself but if you want to maneuver across arches and overhangs, you may wish to have a friend spot you. If at all possible, place a crash pad (big mattress) under yourself so as to minimize injury if you fall.
Lead Climbing is not for the faint of heart. Here, a climber climbs a few feet up and clips himself into an anchor. He then continues to climb up a few feet to clip himself into the next anchor. A belayer is present to supply slack in the rope as the climber ascends. The belayer does not stop you from falling. If the climber falls, he will freefall the distance to the previous clip-in (about 3 to 6 feet). Lead climbing is more like outdoor rock climbing in that you need to set the route yourself. No one puts up a rope for you, you have to do it yourself. Indoor lead climbing allows you to practice and perfect your climbing skills before you head for the great outdoors.
Rock climbing Equipment
Luckily, you don't have to buy any equipment when you go indoor rock climbing: both Vertical Hold and Solid Rock will rent you everything you need. But if you enjoy the sport and want to do it on a regular basis, I recommend that you buy the following basics:
Rock climbing shoes are tight fitting shoes made with a thin, flexible material so that your toes can feel and grip the holds. Renting climbing shoes is fine, but after a while, you just want to put your feet into your own sweaty shoes. To maximize sensitivity, most climbers do not wear socks.|
• buy climbing shoes here
A harness is an elaborate belt system that you wear around your waist - you wear it like a pair of underwear except outside of your shorts. A harness is fitted with loops and hooks where you tie-in stuff. (stuff like the rope, a chalk bag, and other climbing gear). A harness should fit really well so that you do not slip out of it when/if you fall. There are variety of harnesses differing in size, material, and other features (number of loops, adjust-ability, breathe-ability etc). Comes in Mens, Womens, or Kid sizes.
• buy climbing harness here
A chalk bag with powdered chalk inside is nice to have but not absolutely necessary. Like gymnastic folks, some rock climbers like to rub chalk on their hands to soak up the sweat and get a better grip on the hand holds.
• buy chalk bag here
Compare Solid Rock to Vertical Hold
Both facilities are very good and offer quality and safe climbing routes which are changed regularly. I recommend both but will focus briefly on the things that make them different from one another:
Solid Rock has a more relaxed attitude and the employees are familiar with beginner climbers. If you have never done it before or, if you have children, then this place is the gym of choice. The upstairs has a small exercise room with free weights and some cardio equipment. It is a little cheaper ($12 for standard drop in) and the gym is a little cleaner. Technical differences: Solid Rock uses
- self-braking (Petzl Grigri) belay devices and
- carabiners to tie-in the belayer and the climber.
These two elements make the whole climbing/belaying process easier.
Vertical Hold is more suited for people who already know how to rock climb. The establishment welcomes beginners and will give you a quick course, but the clientele is more "let's climb, dude" and less "let's have fun". The upstairs has a nice semi-private bouldering area (see below). The gym itself is quite dusty (because many climbers use chalk on their hands) but the bathrooms here are much nicer. It costs $15 for standard drop-in but you can also go for $9 lunch special. Technical differences: Vertical Hold uses
- tubular (Black Diamond ATC) belay devices and
- the belayer is tied in with a carabiner whereas the climber is
tied in with a figure 8 knot.
Tubular belay devices are not hard to use, in fact experienced climbers prefer it to the self braking type. You may need a refresher on how to use the Figure 8 knot properly, but again, it is not hard once you've got the hang of it.