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  • Writer's pictureMatt Carter

How I Got Into Climbing

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

I grew up in New York City in the early 1990s, when there were only a couple of rock climbing gyms, and climbing wasn't a popular or developed industry by any means. The first rock climbing gym in the U.S. only opened in 1987, a year before I was born. Today, the city has more than ten climbing gyms, and has developed into a multi-million dollar industry that's featured on ESPN and will soon be showcased in the 2020 Olympics. The phenomenon that climbing has become in the past thirty years is amazing.

Other than some indoor rock climbing birthday parties, I had my first real rock climbing experience when I was fifteen. I joined my good friend Adam who was out bouldering at Rat Rock in Central Park. With a few tips from Adam I was off trying my first boulder problem. Of course, I wasn't very good and quickly discovered the complexity and methodical nature of climbing -- it wasn't the macho sport that everyone expects. The challenge had me hooked. I headed to an Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) outlet downtown and purchased my first bag of chalk and climbing shoes. Soon enough, instead of going to school, I was out bouldering in Central Park almost every day.

Committed to improving my climbing, I started climbing at ExtraVertical near Lincoln Center - one of the only climbing gyms in the city at the time. Within a few months I was itching to climb a cliff. With borrowed rope and climbing shoes from my girlfriend's father, I took a bus to New Paltz with my good buddy John and went up to the Gunks for the first time. Though we had all the gear we needed, our skills were still limited and we had to ask a strong climber to set up a top rope for us. Supplying the lead rope, he put up the line for Retribution (5.10b), a classic in the Uberfall. We spent the entire day climbing different routes and camped out that night exhausted but exhilarated.

The city's climbing community though small at the time was a great network of people, supportive and always keen for an adventure, it's one of the best things about climbing. I soon started visiting a private rock climbing spot in Brooklyn that brought together folks whose whole lifestyles were centered around climbing. It was here that I met climbers who connected me to my first jobs as a rock instructor at Reebok Sports Club and Chelsea Piers. At this point I was so hooked on climbing, I couldn't go too long without it -- one late night, John and I went to Home Depot and bought tons of framing wood, paying a stranger $50 to drive us back home, and lugging pounds of wood up 9 flights of stairs, we spent the entire night building the climbing wall frame. When we ran out of wood for the wall, we went dumpster diving around construction sites to find plywood that they'd thrown away. By the end of the week, we had our own climbing wall.

When I was 18 I took my first big climbing trip - spending a month climbing in Mexico's El Potrero Chico with Adam and John. We climbed every single day, banking thousands of feet with multi-pitch sport climbing. It was on this trip that I learned to lead climb.

As soon as I was back in New York I spent the entire spring and summer at the Gunks learning to trad climb - following strong climbers and learning the principles of protection and anchor building. While I'd loved all climbing up until this point, it was trad climbing that really got me psyched. The logistics involved with trad climbing, like building anchors and working to protect yourself, added an extra dimension to the sport climbing and bouldering that I was used to. When winter came and the cliffs were covered in snow, I was still eager to continue learning, and ventured out to try ice climbing for the first time. I drove up to the Catskills and climbed in the Black Chasm with friends. It was a whole new experience that made climbing feel new again, and gave this New Yorker a reason to get out in the winter.

I spent my twenties working at gyms and going on climbing trips throughout the country -- climbing throughout Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, as well as Canada, Europe, Mexico and South America. Every new trip, mountain and route bringing me that same determination I first felt at fifteen. It was on one of these trips, at Joshua Tree in California, that I took the American Mountain Guide Association's (AMGA) Rock Instructor Course, and then began guiding rock and ice trips with Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS).

Today, I still climb as much as I can -- indoors and outdoors, it never gets old. Connecting other people to climbing is still my life's passion.

If you want to try rock or ice climbing, indoors or outdoors, visit my Services page!

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