Family adventures at indoor climbing gyms

Young climbers build confidence and strength on the auto-belay routes at Blue Granite Gym. | Michelle Allen

Since moving to the Tahoe Sierra, my husband Luke and I have enjoyed many of the recreational opportunities available in the area. Our interests have mostly centered around snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, whitewater rafting and kayaking. But we never made climbing a part of our adventures. Now that we are raising our son Anikin in the heart of some of the best climbing terrain in the world, it seems only natural for him to try it out.

We watched Luke bag route after route with what seemed like little effort and amazing speed. Anikin said he looked like Spiderman and I agreed.

Being climbing novices, we needed some help introducing Anikin to the sport. Climbing gyms are a great resource for learning how to climb and there are several in the Tahoe region, including Blue Granite Climbing Gym in South Lake Tahoe. We took Anikin there for his first climbing experience.

We were greeted by Ivan Belardo, a friendly climbing instructor, who set us up with day passes and rental equipment. We were given climbing shoes; Luke and Anikin got harnesses for the auto-belay. Set up above a route, a rope runs from the auto-belay device to where it is tethered to the floor with a locking carabiner. You unhook the carabiner and clip it into your harness. The auto-belay automatically takes in slack as you climb up, and then, when you reach the top, or fall, it gently lowers you to the ground.

Luke helps Anikin get his climbing gear on | Michelle Allen

After a quick and thorough safety talk and equipment demonstration, Belardo took us on a tour of the building explaining all the features as we went. Our first stop was the beginner auto-belay area. The walls are covered with various colored, hand and foot holds, which vary in difficulty. Anikin spent a short amount of time getting acquainted with his equipment and the wall, but his favorite part was the ride back to the bottom on the auto-belay. A short time later, his attention waivered and he wanted to move on to the boulder room.

The boulder room has no ropes but heavy padding on the floor. The features include underhangs and overhangs and lots of angles. Climbers ascend using the hand and foot grips, but to get down the climber must climb or jump down onto the padding. This room is tough and requires a good amount of strength and courage.

It is difficult to find a good starting point even on the easy routes; once you ascend part of the way up, the grip placements get more difficult. As I climbed some of the routes, I felt more comfortable — and more tired. Each time I ascended farther; I knew that at some point I had to figure out how to get down.

The boulder room requires a good amount of strength and courage and is extremely fun. | Michelle Allen

Next, we explored what I think was the coolest feature: The Pit. The first floor of this three-story climbing area was built underground. The walls start at the underground level and extend to the top of the building. There are a variety of route options that range in difficulty and include lots of overhangs, features and cracks.

Luke and Anikin played around for a little while on the easier routes until Anikin was ready to go. Before we left, I suggested that Luke climb on his own. He clipped into his first rope and in less than a minute he was at the top. For 20 minutes we watched him bag route after route with what seemed like little effort and amazing speed. Anikin said he looked like Spiderman and I agreed.

Blue Granite Climbing Gym offers day passes, memberships and classes in climbing, yoga and fitness. There are clubs for children with six-week sessions from Jan. 13 to Feb. 18, from Feb. 24 to April 4 and from April 20 to May 30. | bluegraniteclimbing.com