Indoor rock-climbing gives you a leg up on fitness

It's a game, a workout or a tuneup for the real thing

Outside: sports, activities, events

January 15, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

At first glance, it doesn't look like a manmade mountain.

With its cinderblock and metal exterior walls jutting upward from a wide concrete mound, Earth Treks' Timonium rock-climbing facility blends into the Baltimore region's compacted industrial landscape like a warehouse or plant.

But the interior space is a wilder place altogether, offering vertical paths for thrill-seekers who want to escape - if only mentally - the bustle of the urban atmosphere.

Thousands of locals, young and old, spend hours at the center practicing the physically and mentally challenging sport of rock climbing.

"We have members from 6 years old to 75," said operations director Scot Heidtman.

Last week, a midday visit found school groups, college students, 40-somethings and senior citizens scaling the textured walls in the 18,000-square-foot space.

For most Earth Treks clients, Heidtman said, climbing the artificial mountain terrain is simply a strategy game or a pastime, though others turn their sessions into full-body workouts.

"The majority of the users are recreational climbers. [But] there are plenty of serious people who are using it as a method of keeping fit," he said.

"You can do an endurance workout, you can do a strength workout" or you can just have fun, he said.

Some patrons even practice at Earth Treks for excursions to the outdoors. Those interested in experiencing the real deal can sign up for one of the center's many guided trips.

And although there are plenty of expedition opportunities (adventures planned for this year include trips to Kenya, Nepal and Peru), Heidtman said local climbers who want to know what it's like to scale distant peaks have to travel only as far as Greenspring Drive.

The complex's walls feature a wide variety of "holds," the manmade shapes onto which climbers place their hands and feet to experience a variety of rocky conditions from around the globe.

There are holds that feel like sandstone from the steep regions of the Mid-Atlantic, he said. And others, such as the Fontainebleau hold, which has a texture similar to the mountains in France, are based on distant geographies, he noted.

The center offers classes that introduce form fundamentals and climbing safety skills.

"Anything climbing is what we do," Heidtman said.

The Timonium location is the second for Earth Treks. The first site, located in Columbia, was built in 1997.

Earth Treks is at 1930 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, and at 7125-C Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia. For more information, call the Timonium site at 410-560-5665, the Columbia site at 410-872-0060 or visit www.earthtreksclimbing.com.

More details

Hours: 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, noon-10 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays

Rates: A daily pass at either location costs $16 per person, and a seven-visit pass is $96 per person.

Rentals: The following equipment is available: Climbing shoes ($5), harness ($3), chalk bag ($2), belay device with locking carabiner ($2), or all of the above for $9.

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