Rob Byrnes’ first time climbing was the most memorable.
He was 12 years old and staring up at a wall of floor tiles that were stacked horizontally with spaces in between.
The only instruction he was given was how to tie the knots on his rock climbing harness.
“They just said, ‘Here’s the wall, now go,’” he said. “That was it for me.”
Five years later, Byrnes is living in Craig with his family while he finishes up high school as a home-schooled student.
Still an avid rock climber and inspired by the lack of opportunities around Moffat County, Byrnes is revamping the climbing wall at Trapper Fitness Center, 261 Commerce St., and hopes to start offering rock climbing classes in the near future.
A few months ago, the climbing wall was cluttered and hardly used. It was made up of a few 20–foot tall panels lining a portion of the wall outside the racquetball courts.
Interest had waned to the point that officials planned to send the wall to Rangely when Byrnes discovered it.
“Most people I talk to don’t even know there’s a climbing wall in Craig,” he said.
Trapper Fitness helped him purchase new, safer ropes for the wall, and harnesses and screws to build new climbing routes with a box full of oddly shaped handholds.
The wall is closed to rope climbing until the renovations are finished, but customers can climb without a harness, known as bouldering, as long as
their feet don’t go more than 6 feet off the ground.
When Byrnes started working on the wall a few hours a week, he met Trapper Fitness employee Ben Hough, 32, of Craig, who shares Byrnes’ passion for climbing in and outdoors.
Thursday afternoon, the two opened a box of new ropes and attached them to the clips at the top.
Byrnes wanted to try out a dyno move, which involves pushing off of one’s feet and jumping to reach for the next hold.
Hough stood at the bottom to anchor the rope harness, known to climbers as belaying.
Byrnes pressed his feet into the footholds and eyed a large, handle-shaped hold about six feet away from him.
He pushed and jumped.
The hold was slightly loose and swung around as he grabbed on.
His hand slipped and he fell a few feet before Hough caught his weight and slowly lowered him to the ground.
“I told him he had to put dynos in,” he said. “But anyone can climb this wall. You can find your own way up.”
Hough said the exercise gained from climbing is reason enough to try the sport.
“It works your core more than anything else,” Hough said. “And you’re always pulling your own weight so it’s safe that way.”
Although Hough thinks there should be more technical moves on the wall, Byrnes said it would be accessible to newcomers.
Byrnes said when people climb for the first time, they usually respond in one of two ways.
“Either they really don’t like it and will never do it again, or they’re totally addicted,” he said.
Although Byrnes is a practiced climber, he still feels the fear that most people associate with rock climbing.
“I am scared of heights,” he said. “Enough that it makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want to spend a lot of time up there.”
But the thrill of the risk of falling offers the reason behind any extreme sports junkie’s addiction: adrenaline.
“I love biking, paintball, skiing, anything that involves adrenaline,” he said. “Climbing is up there with the most intense things I’ve ever done.”
The social aspect of the climbing culture draws him to the sport, as well.
“When you meet people that climb, you start talking and maybe start hanging out,” he said. “When you have to belay for someone, their life is in your hands. You almost have to be good friends with them because you have to have so much trust in them.”
He said in any extreme sport there is the knowledge of the risk involved.
One could fall, swing into a rock face or tear muscles and tendons.
But whether you’re climbing a route at the Trapper wall or a tall peak in Yosemite National Park, the climber’s Mecca, there is always the prospect of reaching out for the top.
“It feels really, really good when you get to the top,” he said. “Either that, or you’re just too exhausted to care.”