Climb into a new activity

Photo by Neil McKinnon 

Just over by the War Museum on Victoria Island is Vertical Reality. For 16 years it’s been offering both bouldering and wall climbing activities, which can be something new and challenging to do with friends or alone.

Bouldering is like rock climbing only without the ropes or harnesses. Ranging from beginner to expert, people can climb through caves by following a particular pattern or maze.

In wall climbing, both you and your partner are harnessed. Belaying ropes are used while one person climbs, fastening the rope using clips, while their partner stabilizes the rope at the bottom.

Getting started

If you’re new to either bouldering or wall climbing and don’t have callouses on your hands to protect your skin, Vertical Reality owner Petra Slivka-Flagg recommends using chalk to protect your hands and tape to protect your fingers.

Fourth-year communication student Sarah Jamieson is a self-proclaimed bouldering junkie.  She says she prefers bouldering to wall climbing because it’s more challenging and provides better exercise.  She also doesn’t always have a partner handy to go with her, but when she can find someone, she says she enjoys the camaraderie of having a partner guide her while she climbs high.


Both wall climbing and bouldering are full-body workouts and repeatedly doing both activities can help a person develop strength and flexibility. Being strong and flexible helps if you are starting out, but you don’t necessarily have to be either. She says a lot of people come in and get fit after developing a love for the sport.

To counter the body’s wear and tear resulting from the rigorous pulling involved in bouldering and wall climbing, Slivka-Flagg recommends climbers do strength training and activities a few times a week. She says some people do power yoga to get their strength training.

Even so, a lot of climbers tend to be people who don’t like working out at the gym, and there are weights by the front door for anyone to use to warm up before they start. Inside the facility, it’s not uncommon to see people dropping to the floor, doing stretches, push-ups, jumping jacks, skipping rope, or the downward-facing dog yoga position.

The climb

When bouldering or wall climbing, Slivka-Flagg recommends people grip the bigger rocks first to warm up their hands, fingers, and forearms. Practice caves are generally located at the front of the facility. At 56 feet tall, Vertical Reality boasts one of the highest wall climbing facilities in North America. Unless they are experts, however, Slivka-Flagg says most people don’t climb higher than 40 feet. Vertical Reality also has seven bouldering caves with different mazes ranging from beginner difficulties to harder ones.

“Climbing is an extremely social sport,” says Jamieson. “If you do top-roping, it involves a lot of support from your partner, and often you figure out the problems — the routes — through communication.”

“If you’re bouldering, it’s common to go with a group of friends. Often, you’ll see a lot (of people) hanging out on the mat talking while their friend works through a problem,” says Jamieson.

But given the activity’s minimal use of gear, going with other people isn’t always necessary.


Slivka-Flagg says a lot of people try climbing or bouldering once or twice and quit because they don’t like the blisters on their hands, wrist cramps, or the soreness they get afterwards. This makes the sport rather difficult for most newbies, but with patience, practice, and by biting through the pain and soreness, these difficulties can be overcome.

Many newcomers fall in love with climbing and really get into it.  The fitness results that can come along with the sport are also a bonus.

Jamieson says she justifies the activity’s expense on a student budget by thinking of how much less expensive it is than a normal gym membership. Bouldering membership in three-month chunks are a reasonable rate, or head out after 9 p.m. and pay six dollars of climbing until midnight.