If winter has you climbing the walls, try indoors
Pewaukee's Adventure Rock among the Milwaukee-area places to practice
As I've become more interested in winter sports — snowshoeing, downhill skiing — I've grown from just tolerating Wisconsin winters to actually enjoying them.
But even with a newfound interest in winter's wonders, I still crave an adventure that doesn't involve putting on four layers of clothing and battling weather with names like "polar vortex."
That's where Adventure Rock comes in. The Pewaukee indoor rock climbing facility features more than 40 top-ropes for climbing walls up to 35 feet. There are also two bouldering areas, a tread wall and plenty of routes for lead climbing.
But one of Adventure Rock's greatest features is its auto-belay system. Great for beginners, the system, dubbed "Clip 'N Go," is exactly how it sounds. After a short orientation, climbers clip into one of 17 ropes with a simple carabiner and can begin climbing. The system takes up the rope slack as you climb and controls your descent once you reach the top or in case of a fall. No need to learn how to tie in with knots, no need for a partner to belay below.
The 17 ropes provide opportunities for climbing a variety of routes of varying levels of difficulty. In addition, staff members are constantly moving the rocks and tape that marks the routes under the ropes.
"Those change on an ongoing basis, so every time someone comes in there's always new stuff," said Adventure Rock general manager Craig Burzynski, who has worked at the gym for more than 15 years.
A disadvantage to the auto-belay system? If you fall, you're most likely coming down to the ground, albeit slowly. No hanging out and starting again from where you fell, which can be frustrating if you're tackling a particularly difficult route.
It doesn't take long to get hooked on climbing. After buying a Groupon on a whim with a couple of friends last spring, I've gone from nervously scurrying up beginner routes to tackling true rock climbing at Devil's Lake one summer.
"I think the key thing about climbing is that it's fun. It's mentally stimulating as well as physically challenging," Burzynski said.
Rock climbers can burn more than 500 calories per hour, while your brain is working, too, planning your next few moves. And contrary to some assumptions, climbing is not just for those with Popeye-like upper-body strength. Technique is just as important, and climbing also works your core and legs along with your arms.
That was one of my first revelations with climbing. And although I dealt with sore forearms (who knew washing your hair could be so painful?) for a few days after my first experience, I couldn't wait to go back for more.
"Once you start getting into it, you want to come to the gym," Burzynski said. "That's what makes this such a compelling sport for folks is that it gets under their skin and they just want to do it all the time."
What you'll need: The only gear you really need for climbing is a harness and a belay device if you're not using the auto-belay system. Comfortable clothing and athletic shoes are helpful, and most climbers opt for special climbing shoes that are lightweight and feature sticky soles.
Adventure Rock offers shoes for rent for $5 per day, harnesses for $5, belay devices for $2, chalk bags and chalk for $2, or a package for $10.
When to go: The gym is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Discounts are offered for home-schooled students Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., college students on Wednesdays and high schoolers on Friday nights.
The gym is usually packed with people on weeknights, with various classes and groups meeting, as well as climbers of all abilities trying to shake cabin fever. You may face a wait to climb certain routes.
To avoid the crowds, weekdays during the day are a good time to visit, Burzynski said, and "Saturday evenings are a very quiet time for us" as well.
How much it will set you back: Clip 'N Go passes are $20 per day, $85 for five visits or $160 for 10 visits and include a harness rental.
Regular passes are $16 per day or $65 for five visits. Memberships are also available starting at $75 for the first month and $48 per month after that for students.
Other indoor climbing spots: Turner Hall, 1034 N. 4th St., Milwaukee; $30 for a Learn to Climb class. YMCA at Pabst Farms, 1750 E. Valley Road, Oconomowoc; free for members. Grand Geneva Resort, 7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva; $25 for a half-hour for up to three climbers, $50 for one hour for up to six climbers.
Getting there: Adventure Rock is at 21250 Capitol Drive, Pewaukee, about 18 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94, Highway 45 and Capitol Drive.
More information: For more on climbing at Adventure Rock, call (262) 790-6800 or see adventurerock.com.
Updated: Jan. 25, 2016
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