Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Indoor rockclimbing

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Tapu, 6, scales the wall at Extreme Edge. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Tapu, 6, scales the wall at Extreme Edge. Photo / Kellie Blizard

What is it? Climbing in a safety harness on artificial structures that mimic outdoor rockclimbing.

What's needed? Closed-in shoes such as sneakers and comfortable clothes that give freedom to move (jeans or skirts are a no-go). The facility has safety and climbing gear, or buy your own.
The experience: My 7-year-old son Zach is wide-eyed and saying "wow" as he looks about Panmure's Extreme Edge Indoor Rockclimbing, the country's largest indoor climbing wall. It's the size of a quarter-acre section and the dazzling height of a four-storey building with more than 200 climbing challenges, some an eye-watering 14m high.

We meet my friend Jo and her boys Alex, 7, and Hamish, 5, and within seconds the kids are begging to climb the walls.

Branch manager Dean Garner fits us all in safety harnesses and gives a quick safety briefing and demonstration.

Within minutes the boys are near the ceiling, reaching the top of each new challenge and grinning, before cruising down on ropes. The kids love the wall shapes, from starfish to the fish Nemo, a giant beanstalk, dinosaur, rocket ship and sky-scraper.

After watching the kids for a bit, Garner decides it's time for my go and picks a beauty. I set off easily until I hit three quarters of the way up and struggle to get a good grip on hand holds. I stop and stall and look down, down, down. Gulp. My hands are numb by the wintry cold and I whimper "maybe this is high enough for the first go". I'm a wuss.

But Garner and the three boys are having none of it. Garner gently urges, "just take a break up there, shake your hands to get some warmth and movement back into them and then you can conquer this".

He reminds me I'm attached to a safety line and can't fall. My eyebrows rise, but I can't bring another part of my body to rise any further. I become aware of exactly where my heart is in my chest.

But then I peer down at three little beaming boys and I know that they could blitz this in a heartbeat. So, in Sir Ed Hillary's words, I decide to knock the bastard off.

I lock on to some good hand- and foot-holds and triumphantly reach the summit and tap the pole. I feel chuffed.

Jo also gives it a whirl and swings down smiling.

I then tackle some walls, side-by-side with my son. It's fun to do together, but I'm really no match for the 7-year-old. He is way more fearless and has strong arms thanks to hours of swinging on the monkey bars during school lunchtimes. He and his mates leave me for dust.

Jo and I got a kick out of climbing, but even more delight craning our necks to watch the kids take on new heights.

Garner reckons kids have a natural knack for climbing. It's a power-to-weight ratio thing, plus they tend to have good co-ordination and flexibility.

We stopped briefly for morning tea but all up the boys did two hours' climbing and still didn't want to leave. The boys ruled it "really good", which in boy speak means totally awesome.

How much? At Extreme Edge Indoor Rockclimbing in Panmure, an all-day adult pass with harness use (16 years and over) is $20. An all-day pass and harness use for 15 year olds and under is $15. Ten session passes (with harness use) are $160 for an adult or $120 for a child. Other membership options are available, including one- to 12-month options.

Worth it? Good for strength, balance, co-ordination and fitness. This is a fun activity for the family, or a safe introduction to the sport of rock-climbing (where you get to avoid crappy weather and can still climb after dark). It's hugely popular for kids' birthday parties too.

Try it: Extreme Edge Indoor Rockclimbing is in Panmure, Glen Eden and in Hamilton, plus there are other providers about.

Rating: 8/10

- Herald on Sunday

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