Hanging from a rope 30 feet in the air, I realized that my life (or at least my health) was in Danica's hands. As my belayer, she was responsible for keeping me from dropping to the ground if I let go of my handholds. A scary thought.
Scaling walls and risking life and limb isn't my typical Friday night activity, but on a recent weekend evening, associate editor Party Joe and I and a few adventurous friends hit up Tampa's only indoor rock climbing gym, Vertical Ventures.
Vertical Ventures offers extreme-sport enthusiasts a home to practice their cliff-scaling techniques in our topographically-challenged state. The gym, which just celebrated its 10th year of operation, is housed in a 6,000-square-foot warehouse near Sligh Avenue in Tampa.
Although I consider myself a relatively experienced rock climber after eight years of summer camp in North Carolina, I'd never climbed indoors. It wasn't quite the same experience as clinging to a mountain face with 2,000 feet of exposure below you, but in the flatlands that we call Florida, you have to take what you can get.
Danica and Joe were newbies to rock climbing. After a brief introduction to the fundamentals from VV manager Tim Jarvis, he asked for volunteers to climb while the newly trained belayers (the people who hold the rope and keep you from crashing to the ground) practiced their form. Intrepid though I am, I hesitated at his request to be Danica's first climber.
A successful trip up the wall somewhat allayed my fears, and by the fourth route I was completely at ease; although by that point my arm muscles had turned to Jell-O and my hands were so cramped that hanging on for dear life wasn't really an option.
I had forgotten how much climbing takes out of you, but I remembered how much fun it is, once you get past that initial fear.
VV offers a range of opportunities to test your strength, flexibility and bravery. Jarvis, who has worked at the gym since he moved to the area eight years ago, said the business attracts climbers of all skill levels and ages.
For newcomers to the sport, a $30 introductory course teaches the basics of gym climbing, from climbing techniques to safety precautions to belay instruction. More advanced climbers are free to explore the gym's dozens of routes, which are set up for a range of difficulties, a bouldering cave and a rappelling wall.
Vertical Ventures, located at 5402 Pioneer Park Blvd., Suite E, is open noon-10 p.m. Tuesday though Thursday, noon-midnight Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Prices vary depending on the day ($11 on weekdays, $12.50 weekends), but college students climb for half price on Tuesdays and ladies for half price on Wednesdays. Memberships and equipment rentals are available. Visit www.verticalventures.com or call 813-884-7625.