Marie McAden



Conquering James Island's Climbing Wall is a real rush

Posted 3/31/2011 2:08:00 PM

As many times as I’ve visited James Island County Park near Charleston, I’ve never made it out to the Climbing Wall, one of the park’s most popular attractions. The 50-foot monolith lays claim to the title of tallest outdoor climbing structure in the Lowcountry.

Did I mention I’m afraid of heights? Sure, I can hike up Table Rock and look out from the top of the 3,100-foot high granite dome without shaking in my boots, but scaling a five-story wall using nothing but odd-shaped holds the size of Hostess Ding Dongs requires a whole different level of nerve.

Intellectually, I know it’s safe. You’re wearing a harness that is secured by a rope anchored to a large rock. An experienced belayer controls the amount of friction applied to the rope, releasing it slowly as you ascend the wall. Should you lose your grip, the belay system would catch the rope, preventing you from falling more than a few feet.

Determined to get over my irrational fear, I decided to give it a try on a recent trip to the park.

Built by premier climbing wall builder Alpine Towers International, the wooden structure features 14 ropes and 6,000 square feet of climbing surface with 40 to 50 different routes topping out at a difficulty grade of 5.13. Based on the Yosemite Decimal System, a rating of 5 is given to a vertical or nearly vertical surface where an un-roped fall would result in severe injury or death.

By comparison, the nose of Yosemite’s El Capitan is a 5.9.

Maybe in another lifetime. I would be happy if I could make it up the beginner wall which has an inclined surface with lots of big, chunky holds that could handle Shaquille O’Neal’s size 22 sneakers.

As I stood at the base looking up at the towering edifice, my confidence was bolstered watching a 7-year-old girl scramble up the wall with ease. Josh Hall, the park’s outdoor program manager, told me they’ve had toddlers as young as 2 climbing at the facility. The gauntlet had been thrown. I couldn’t walk away from the challenge.

After donning a helmet and harness, I began to scale the wall, reassured my belayer would stop me from falling if I lost my footing. For me, the trick was not looking down. Instead, I focused on finding the next hold and lifting myself another few inches up the wall.

Before I knew it, I was at the top. I told myself not to do it, but I couldn’t help take a quick look down. I felt like I was in airliner territory, but the adrenalin rush of conquering the wall crushed whatever fear remained in my brain.

Getting down the structure was a breeze. All I had to do was push off the wall with my feet and let the belayer lower me several feet at a time.

Designed to accommodate climbers of every level, the James Island facility also includes a 10-foot bouldering cave offering an additional 1,000 square feet of space to work on technique and increase climbing skills.

A day pass to climb is $12, plus $3 for the harness. If you stay in the park’s campground, the pass is just $10. You’ll also need to pay $1 admission fee to enter the park.

Click here for all the information you need about the James Island County Park Climbing Wall, or call (843) 795-4386.