This past week I went with my niece to a climbing hall (and trampolining centre) in Kuwait. You can see photos of the walls here and here. The whole experience was designed to encourage play and fun, naturally, rather than for some kind of skill-building. There weren’t any other adults climbing; just children with a throw-yourself-at-it mentality that was infectious.
The routes themselves weren’t particularly difficult, but it was harder trying to ascend without climbing shoes and hindered by the world’s most uncomfortable harness. The walls weren’t that high, and this seemed to reward a sprint-like style of climbing. Speed was more important than technique or form. This was climbing as challenge, as a way to enjoy scrambling up and leaping off the top, rather than anything else. (The centre uses auto-belay devices that stop you from falling all the way down to the bottom).
The experience — mine, and watching that of the children 10–20 years younger than me — reinforced the conclusion that has been steadily growing in my mind over time. Climbing is not really about strength; fear and the mental battles are the biggest things holding the beginner climbing back.
I’ll have to still bash my head against the wall for a while longer before I fully absorb and believe this lesson, but the sooner I do, the sooner I’ll be able to advance onwards to the next level of challenge.