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Get Hooked on Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is an ideal way to get in shape while experiencing the outdoors this summer.

Do you want to build muscle and increase your strength without being stuck in the gym?

As the weather warms up, why not try rock climbing? It's a perfect way to enjoy the outdoors and get in shape.

As with any hobby, though, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.

"What people perceive rock climbing to be and what it turns out to be is somewhat different," says Jon Tierney, experienced climber and owner of Acadia Mountain Guides, a year-round climbing school based in Maine.

Many people perceive it to be a fast-paced, adrenaline-filled sport, when in reality there's a lot of careful thinking and judgment involved.

It's also not as dangerous as people commonly believe. "The basic level of climbing is much safer than driving a car, statistically. We always tell people the riskiest thing you'll do today is driving to the

site," says Tierney.

Tools and Types

For beginners, it's important to know the mechanics before embarking on outdoor rock climbing. A climber works in tandem with a belayer, who controls or stops the rope in case the climber slips. The belayer can either be below or above the lead climber on the mountain.

Climbers wear a harness, which is attached to the rope in a particular knot. The rope is also attached to anchor points on the mountain. Typically the rope is attached to the harness in a figure eight, which is a basic knot with different variations.

Click here for a list of knots that are used for different purposes. For example, single-loop knots like the alpine butterfly knot, bowline and figure eight can attach a rope to the climber or to a protection point on a cliff. There are also hitches like the clove hitch, which allows a fixed point to travel on a rope, and Italian hitch, which can be used to belay the climber.

Part of the art of climbing is knowing which knot to use in a given situation. Even though beginners can master one or two knots and be able to climb, this is a skill that can be refined over a lifetime.

There are two main types of rock climbing: aid climbing and free climbing. In aid climbing, equipment and a stirrup (a ladderlike device) are used. The climber attaches equipment to the natural rock face, then clips in the stirrup and climbs onto it. This process is repeated to ascend. As the climber moves up the mountain, his or her rope is released by the belayer.

In free or traditional climbing, the climber does not use any implanted devices to help scale the rock. Here, the climber must rely solely on his or her own hands and feet, which makes it quite challenging. In free climbing, you only use the natural features of the rock for gripping and standing (along with the typical safety harness and ropes).

School of Hard Rocks

"In a few sessions, a person in good shape will become a good physical climber. But to be able to do it on your own requires technical knowledge,

such as of ropes, which takes a significant amount of time," Tierney says.

"Fifteen to 20 days of instruction will give you a starter on the movement and most importantly, on safety skills," says Libby Wilder, operations director at Acadia Mountain Guides.

"In one day's lesson, a person can be prepared to go to a climbing gym and perform indoors. But they would be clueless outside," explains Tierney.

Most importantly, one should seek a teacher from a school accredited by the

American Mountain Guides Association or a guide licensed by the

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International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations, which is the highest level of professional achievement that one can achieve in this field. Tierney is one of the roughly 40 IFMGAs in the United States, says Wilder.

Like many sports, it's all in the attitude. "If people are enthusiastic and want to have fun, we can work with them," says Tierney.

And it's not about age. Tierney recently worked with a novice climber who was in his late seventies. No matter how old you are, it's not a deterrent.

Hot Spots

Even though California's Yosemite National Park's dramatic rock walls may be one of the best known, it isn't the only prime spot for climbing, especially for beginners. There are destinations worldwide for rock climbing. The stunning

Acadia National Park, located in Maine, is very scenic in all seasons. As climbers scale sea cliffs made of pink granite, they are rewarded with (and inspired by) a pristine view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Acadia is about a six-hour drive from Boston, or 10 hours from New York City.

Another prime location is Australia. There are diverse

areas all over the continent -- including Sydney -- which have mountains suitable for climbers of all different levels.

The rock in Sydney is made of sandstone, and climbers can select from areas near the water or even right in the suburbs. Review the

sites before planning your adventure.

Or try the breathtaking, rugged terrain of South America. In Ecuador, scalable mountains are up to about 16,500 feet high and offer challenges for both beginner and experienced climbers. Try a 10-day

tour ($2,100), which begins in the capital city of Quito -- right at the center of the spectacular Andes Mountains.

Preparation and Practice

No matter where your rock-climbing excursion takes you, make sure you drink plenty of liquids beforehand. After you're done, be sure to replenish with carbohydrates like bread, potatoes and rice. It's best to avoid fatty or oily foods if you can.

Make sure you stretch before and after you hit the rocks. And expect to feel sore -- rock climbing offers a workout for nearly every muscle in your body, as it develops strength, endurance and flexibility.

Even if there are no mountains in sight, there are plenty of ways to go climbing

indoors, or to practice your skills between outdoor climbs. In addition, it's easier for beginners to concentrate here as there are fewer distractions like extreme weather or wind conditions.

"Rock climbing is a great way for personal development that may turn into a lifestyle," says Tierney. Besides the intensive physical benefits, it can offer a welcome way to clear your head.

Even if you've never tried it before, consider rock climbing this summer. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.

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