Health During a Pandemic – Bouldering

The first three months of this pandemic were definitely the hardest three months I have had to deal with in my life.

The massive changes from personal freedom to being afraid of any activity, and from being completely spontaneous to having to plan everything days in advance were something that took me by surprise. Add to that a good mixture of being extremely careful as to not contract any kind of disease and you have a perfect mixture of constant paranoia and a massive shift in overall activities.

It took me some time to realize, but working from home 100% of the time after being a person who was in-office pretty much every day definitely took its toll in ways that I could have never imagined.

  • The walk from my desk to the coffee machine at work was 3x the length of my apartment
  • If I got a fancy coffee from a Starbucks or another franchise, it was at least a four block round trip if I had an itch for a coffee
  • The distance between my desk and the farthest of my direct reports was 3x the length of my apartment one way.
  • The distance between my desk and the nearest toilet was 5x the distance of my apartment
  • The nearest subway was 3 blocks away
  • Cycling to and from work was a 90 minute workout

Now take into consideration that some of those movements were done more that once a day. The shift from regular movement to sedentarianism was something that caught me very off-guard at the beginning of the pandemic, and something that was very painful to deal with in those early days for a variety of reasons.

  • My max walking distance was from my bed to my desk, which takes about 20 seconds.
  • The distance from my desk to my fridge is 10 seconds.
  • I literally left my apartment maybe once a week for the first month of the pandemic.
  • My commute time on a daily basis was about a minute if I took it slowly.
  • There were no distraction walks. Most of my breaks were spent either in the same room I work in or in the adjacent room.
  • There is ZERO incentive to go anywhere at any time.

This was all very hard, and going back to the very first sentence of this post — it was pretty much 3 months of this. Although I alleviated a lot of potential cabin fever problems after month 1 with cycling, there was still the social component of cycling that was missing, and overall I have never been one to put all my eggs on one basket and be content doing one activity at all times. Cycling every other day to visit someone from a socially distant… distance was a very good distraction, but not doing much for my body that is very much used to cycling to all places.

For three long months during this pandemic my mental and physical health took a big hit, and then it happened. Gyms (not interested) and climbing gyms (very interested) got the green light to open in early June.

I was very excited but also terrified. After spending 3 months locked indoors and seeing essentially two people (my mom and my partner) from a distance, I was terrified at the concept of going back into a building with people. Gyms were a big no for me due to how packed they get to be and how airflow is restricted, but climbing gyms with their big spaces and open areas were a different story… enter my climbing gym.

The very first thing you notice when you enter my climbing gym, Allez Up, is that the flow is restricted. There are arrows indicating which way you should be going and much like every other establishment there are two things that you are forced to do the moment you go in:

  • Put a mask on
  • Wash your hands

Even before you do these things, there is one essential thing you need to do before you enter the building: Be ready.

In the days of old, you would be able to arrive to the facility, go into the locker room, and change into your climbing clothes, In our current pandemic world, however, you are encouraged to arrive ready to climb mostly because the locker rooms are no more and everyone is asked to arrive, climb, and leave without entering into close spaces that could be a hazard for everyone.

Once this full notion of being ready before even entering the building is done and gone, getting into the gym becomes a thing.

The only way to get into the gym is by pre-registering online. There are a limited amount of slots to get into the gym and there is a full questionnaire to fill out in order to be able to do so. The guidelines are online and they are pasted everywhere in the register area. The front desk itself looks like a lot of businesses in Canada:

  • Sanitizer is available everywhere
  • Social distancing stickers in the floor tell everyone where they should stand
  • Staff is wearing mask at all moments
  • There are plexiglass barriers protecting the staff and customers from each other in any cash-register setting

For newcomers and first-timers since the pandemic, there is a spiel to learn and listen to when you arrive, for the rules have changed since the pandemic came to be:

  • Everyone social distances at all times, no matter if you live together in a household or not
  • Facemasks are on at all times. The only exception is for people rock climbing (belay climbing) once they are up already in the wall. The belayer keeps their facemask on at all times. Anyone bouldering keep their facemask on at all times.
  • Do not touch your facemask under any circumstance.
  • People are to be fully clothed at all times (no topless climbing).
  • Sanitize your hands if you need to touch your face.
  • You may not eat in the premises.
  • Social distancing space for climbing/bouldering is 2x the norm. People may not climb with less than 4-6 meters of each other.
  • Stickers have been placed everywhere to signal social distancing measures.
  • All benches (but one) and resting areas have been removed.
  • Water fountains are closed and may only be used to re-fill bottles.

The main goal of the gym is to increase spacing between people as much as possible, as well as reducing anything breathing-related to the max. People are encouraged to was their hands before/after touching their face, which gets to be pretty easy to do once you have a facemask on. Getting chalk all over your face is unpleasant enough that anyone who wants to scratch or adjust their mask are likely to wash their hands with sanitizer from one of the many stations. The fact that staff also sanitizes surfaces that are often held by people in-between climbing (such as railings and some of the surfaces people lean into in their breaks) is satisfying.

Having witnessed local staff enforce mask usage has also been very pleasant, as in the early days of getting back to climbing there were many people who flat-out refused to wear their mask as they should have.

The one thing that gives me a big sense of security among the chaos that a climbing gym would usually be is regularity.

Before the pandemic on any other day one could see maybe 200 or 300 people swarming the place waiting for their turn on a section of the wall.

Now slots are limited to 40 every few hours and it’s always the same people. After the first few days those who did not want to wear facemasks stopped attending. The ones who did became few, and the final result is a very divided crowd: Many belay climbers who always do the same slots on the same days at the same time, and a handful of people who solely boulder and never occupy the bouldering walls more than two at a time.

Somehing I quickly noticed is that most people are there to belay climb rather than to do bouldering, which is my activity of choice. While there may be 20 or so people belay climbing at a time , there are never more than 5 people bouldering in a wall. The picture I took above has exactly 5 people in frame, and by the time I made it to the pad they had all taken off. It’s a refreshing change compared to several months ago when bouldering was the main activity that had twice the amount of people compared to regular climbing.

Whereas in pre-pandemic times a bouldering wall could have up to 50 or 60 people, now they rarely have more than 5 at a time. I have seen them as busy as 10 if every other wall is empty but everyone still respects social distancing rules and there is never more than two people in a single wall (climbing though there may be a few more people waiting on the side –thouugh never more than 10).

I wish I had pictures of the staff cleaning surfaces, but I try not to keep my phone out as much as possible. It’s definitely comforting to see them cleaning all of the social spaces every hour or so. It’s little details like those that make a big difference dring these trying times.

Overall I have to describe my experience going back to bouldering as very pleasant. The staff make me feel like they care about keeping everyone safe, and the community itself has reduced to only the people who still want to do the sport while doing their part of protecting everyone. Coupled with the fact that after 3 months there hasn’t been a single case tied to any of the city’s climbing gyms, I have confidence that we are going to be able to keep this sport responsibly controlled for everyone to keep doing it for as long as possible.

That is, until the government asks all establishments to reduce their overall numbers or go back to a complete activity freeze. Or maybe even to pretend nothing is happening. Only time will tell.

One thought on “Health During a Pandemic – Bouldering

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