It’s not flying, it’s falling with style. Illustration: Christine Wang.
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Getting some altitude at Altitude

Last March, I tried parkour, which I naively thought would be the most extreme sport I would ever attempt—boy, was I wrong. Welcome to the world of rock climbing.

According to Maxym Langlois, a coach at Altitude Gym in Gatineau, climbing originated in China when they started belaying with just a rope and a harness around the waist. Eventually it spread to Europe and then to the Americas, where it first popped up in Yosemite, California.

“Altitude was the first gym in the Gatineau region, and the sport is growing in Quebec and in Canada. But I still feel like Canada is almost 10 to 15 years behind France and England, and five to 10 years behind the United States right now,” Langlois said.

Altitude is split between three sections: top-roping, lead climbing, and bouldering. After a short introduction, gym staff showed us the ropes, literally and figuratively.

The top-roping wall at Altitude is about 10 metres high. You climb it with a harness strapped to a pulley system with a partner—called a belay. If the climber falls or releases their grip on the wall, the weight of their partner will keep them from splattering onto the ground, which is what I kept reminding myself as I was climbing.

It did not, however, keep me from screaming and flopping around like a dying whale on my graceless descent back to solid ground. Thankfully for the world, there is even video footage.



Next, we tried bouldering. This wall is approximately three meters high and climbing is done without a harness, but is cushioned with a thick mattress on the ground. Bouldering relies mostly on technique and strategy. After experiencing the alarming height of top-roping, bouldering almost felt like a breeze—“almost” because the easiest levels were still a challenge for my noodle arms.

Apart from the normal climbing sections, Altitude has a zone called the Clip ‘n Climb, which satisfied my inner child with obstacles like in American Ninja Warriors. There was glow-in-the-dark climbing, a wall with moving handholds, a giant slide, a platform to jump off onto a giant noodle, and more.

With its bright colours and flashing lights, I was lured into starting with the American Ninja Warriors-like obstacles. But then, with the kid-friendly shapes and colours as well as the people watching, I felt peer-pressured to climb all the way to the top despite my (usual) fear of death. In just a few minutes, I was sweating more just from pure panic and adrenaline than I normally do from a two-hour cardio session.

Langlois recommends beginners to start with bouldering, explaining for that “all you need are climbing shoes, which you can rent, and we have chalk bags that you can rent or buy.”

People go to the gym for a wide variety of reasons. Many regulars climb for fun and some groups host birthday parties or company events at their location. For more intense exercise, Altitude has a competitive program with athletes who train up to 15 hours per week.

Overall thoughts on this sport? After I got over the fear of heights and started trusting the harness, it was incredibly addictive. The adrenaline rush was like nothing else I had ever experienced, and I could’ve kept playing in the kid’s zone—I mean the Clip ‘n Climb—for hours on end.

Altitude Gym has two locations, one in Gatineau about 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa and one in Kanata. Day passes range in cost from $8 to $15. Registration for weekly courses begins Dec. 3. More details can be found on their website.