Sweat SF: Everything You Need To Know About Mission Cliffs

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Published in 7×7

Written by Erica Quandt.

“Choke and poke.” I’ll admit, I laughed the first few times I heard the expression as our climbing instructor, Daniel, demonstrated how to tie a figure-eight knot. But after learning said knot would be my life-line as I ascended the wall looming over us, the giggles settled down pretty quickly.

Walking into Mission Cliffs for the first time is an experience in itself. It’s hard to imagine you are still in San Francisco proper when starring up at the colorful, towering walls covered in climbing holds and route markers. It’s even harder to imagine how you will possibly navigate the 50 feet to the top. Cue Daniel and the Intro to Climbing class. Emphasis on the word “class,” because you learn a lot, and yes, there will be a test!

Rock Climbing at Mission CliffsBefore even touching the wall, we went through a series of lessons on the equipment. The underlining theme in all: safety. The instructors at Mission Cliffs ensure everyone climbing has been approved and can pass a belay test before taking to the wall. Thanks to Daniel’s clever mnemonics such as “V to the Knee, One, Two, Three,” we got the green light to “climb on.” And climb we did, fully entrusting one another to not only ascend but descend safely and confidently. Mission Cliffs instructors do an amazing job of balancing supervision with providing a sense of autonomy for you and your partner. When you safely reach terra firma after your climb, you feel accomplished and responsible for it all, with just the right amount of reassurance from Daniel.

Mission Cliffs houses 14,000 square feet of climbing terrain, organized into routes identified by color-coordinated climbing holds. Route difficulty is graded on the Yosemite Decimal System. Experienced climbers use this scale to choose routes and track improvement. If you hear someone say they climbed a 5.131ac, be impressed. Daniel wisely set us up on a 5.8 climb—one of the easier ways up the wall. He explained that a common newb mistake is to pull with your arms instead of pushing with your legs. I pushed, pulled, and somethings inbetween throughout my attempts up the route. I even expanded the command vocabulary, adding “falling” a few times when I missed a hold. Thankfully the “falling” was more of a casual hanging out until being lowered down. While I wasn’t particularly sweaty throughout the climb, my arms and legs were shaking on the wall and sore the next day.

“Rock climbing is a fantastic physical workout, but its also mentally challenging as well, so it’s easy to see why people get so hooked,” Mission Cliffs General Manager Donna Hawkins explains. “There is always a goal, always something to push for, only to fall short and then get it on your next visit.”

As Mission Cliff approaches its 20th anniversary in 2015, the facility has expanded to include a full gym, yoga, and spin classes in case you want to give your inner Spiderman a break. After spending almost 2 hours with our new rock climbing friends, my fiancée and I agreed the most rewarding part of the experience was learning something new and being challenged. As someone who doesn’t particularly love heights, it will likely be a while before I make it to the top of the wall, but in the meantime I can tie a damn good knot!

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