Get a Grip

Still above the lamestream: Mature Samet savors the gym between all those daddy duties.

We asked our readers whether they hit the climbing gym or go rock only. Two-thirds thought the gym was an essential part of a climber’s repertoire. Even Matt Samet agreed, arguing with that younger version of himself who would never touch plastic holds.

When I moved to Boulder in 1991, the Boulder Rock Club had just opened its doors on Baseline and was running an ad that my snarky climber friends and I loved to poke fun at. “Better Eldorado?” it asked. “Try Indoor-ado.” A CU freshman with infinite time to climb, I scoffed at anyone in climber Mecca who would voluntarily grimp inside. It was a prejudice I held onto for the next sixteen years, until an aging body and a 90-hour-a-week desk job conspired to turn me into a gym rat—which I have happily remained. But have I lost my soul? To find out, dirtbagging, gym-hating thirty-year-old me from 2002 debates gym-loving forty-year-old me from 2012.

rock on

Bro, I can’t believe anyone would live in Boulder, Colorado, call himself a climber, then piss away his time at the gym. Weak sauce. A mild climate, three hundred days of sunshine, Eldorado, the Flatirons and Boulder Canyon out your door, and you wanna hang with a bunch of shirtless wankers, makeup betties and lunch-break yuppies projecting “Pink Tape”? Might as well go to the mall, silo Cinnabons, and bargain-hunt Creed CDs. I thought we lived in Boulder because we loved climbing, not gym-ing.

Look at me: I’ve got a busy life and I get on rock all the time. I’m taking six whole hours of graduate creative-writing classes per semester, teaching an entire workshop to undergrads, writing three magazine columns a year and still putting in thirty hours on the stone every week. Man, it’s a full-time job climbing hard outside, and I’m bummed that everyone else isn’t at least trying. “Oh, yeah, whoo, let’s go to the gym where all the routes are safe and it’s always 70 degrees, then go get some f–king lattés…”

Punters. You’re an embarrassment to the sport. Imagine selling out so hardcore that you’re psyched for four hours on plastic per week and a token half-day outside on weekends. Blech. Climbing is revolution, it’s counterculture; it’s a way out, a direct link to nature—not some skeezy communion with fiberglass grips. Climbing elevates you above the lamestream, which is why I got into it. If I’m ever that castrato bopping down the path with a stroller and a dog, just shoot me. Ten years from now I’ll have just as much time and psyche to climb, unlike those sorry poseurs at the rock gym.

inner lights

Call climbing what you will—noble, daring, soulful, superhuman—but the truth remains that it’s about as selfless as surfing PornoTube: it enriches the practitioner alone, and only for the duration of the activity. A long day at the rocks is always amazing, but after a quarter century in the game I’ve realized that I come home the same miserable narcissist, having helped nobody. Diehards talk about the rocks with near-religious awe, but the sport’s about as spiritual as chronic masturbation. It’s little more than a pastime.

Some of this existential crust is a function of aging, injury and perspective, but it’s also a result of time—as in I don’t have any. I’m a new dad, a typically scrambling, paranoid freelance writer and our family’s live-in maid, butler, landscaper, nanny and chef. I lack the main commodity you need for performance climbing, and what time I do have I want to put into raising a healthy, happy son. BITD, I’d put in four days a week on stone to be both fit and fluent, imbued with an easy-flowing “rock sense.” Now, as I type, the little man is taking his morning nap, so I have an hour, if I’m lucky, to work. Then it’s on to diapers, a dog-‘n-baby stroll, more diapers, play time, bottle time, nap time, tummy time…There will be no eight hours pussyfooting about in Eldorado, pretending to answer some higher calling.

That’s where Indoor-ado comes in. Even amidst life’s chaos you can always find two hours for the gym, long enough to blast yourself and remain a nominal climber. And the gym offers a constant infusion of new routes to “onsight,” fodder for the stoke even if the holds are delineated with tape. After two decades in Boulder I’ve ticked the plums at the crags and am up against routes I’m either too weak or weak-willed to try. I don’t have the time or energy to campaign on some five-sickter c/d, and my self-preservation instinct has become too well formed to cast off on an Eldo death lead. But I still love vertical movement, so I find new horizons inside. Setting, hold and wall technology have evolved to render a near-perfect facsimile of the rockand on the off chance I can get outside for a day, the gym keeps me psyched and fit. I’m climbing—or at least gym-ing—as hard as ever.

Sad, right? I’ve become a sellout. An air-conditioning-seeking, bolt-every-four-feet, padded-floor-loving wimp-ass. I would have hated me. Well, whatever, Matt from 2002. You had all the time in the world and you pissed it away at the rocks. Now it’s time to join the grown-ups at the deep end of the pool.

Matt Samet is the former editor of Climbing Magazine. Visit to learn about his book the Climbing Dictionary, an illustrated glossary to climbing slang and lingo.

Reader Response from the Web

Because in the world of anonymous online comments everyone has a say.

“The gym is the place that gets me prepared for the rock. You get strong at the gym, but, out on the rock, you have to think more. There’s no marked hold or tape telling you where the route goes. The gym is good, but nothing beats the real thing.“


Get ready for our next question, dear readers: Cave Men v. Hipsters—Are you better off on the paleo diet or vegan? Let us know and butt heads at

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