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There’s no reason not to try rock climbing on the Central Coast



Andy Sherar braced himself as he vaulted up onto a large rock, the bright sun greeting him as he steadied himself, adjusting his harness at the top of Bishop Peak.

It was a moment that Sherar never thought possible a few months before. For someone with a fear of heights as bad as his, reaching a peak like this was unfathomable, and, in many ways, rock climbing has been key to conquering that fear.

"The feeling I get when I just stay up there brings me this sense of peace," he said. "And it's even more comforting because I keep that feeling as I descend, and I think it's helped me come a long way with my fear of heights."


The climbing experience was new ground for Sherar, whose prior experience was confined to indoor gym climbing, which he tried in an attempt to tackle his fear of heights—something that was impacting him while he surfed.

"My friends just kind of threw it out there, 'Hey, we are going to go climb tomorrow do you want to come?'" he said with a laugh. "At that point, I had only done climbing in an indoor setting. It was daunting at first, but I knew I wanted to keep facing that fear and that outdoor climbing was a great way to do that."

Indoor climbing is how most people get introduced to the sport, Sherar said, with many San Luis Obispo residents beginning their climbing journey at either the Cal Poly Rec Center or The Pad climbing gym.

Josef Maier—who serves as The Pad's director of route setting—said the gym is the epicenter of climbing culture in SLO, offering climbing walls and services for anyone who wants to try the adventure sport.

"It's very similar in the way you can move, as in the flow is the same," he said. "It's a great way to get into a sport that, at times, can feel very daunting to get into."

With the controlled nature of being inside, Maier said climbers can get a feel for what level of climbing they want to try without feeling intimidated to ask for help.

"Indoor climbing is wonderful because it is approachable for everyone," he said. "Whoever you are, you can show up at a climbing gym and don't need any previous experience."

While there are shared aspects between indoor and outdoor climbing, he stressed that the differences are important to consider when doing either.

Andy Sherar, Michaela Lafferty, and Francesca D’amico celebrate their climb to the top of Lizard’s Mouth in Los Padres National Forest. - COURTESY PHOTO BY GRACE KUGLER
  • Andy Sherar, Michaela Lafferty, and Francesca D’amico celebrate their climb to the top of Lizard’s Mouth in Los Padres National Forest.

"Indoor climbing is a great way to build experience and meet other climbers who can give you insight on where to climb," he said. "But it doesn't prepare you for some of the safety measures, so you have to use it purely as a starting point if you plan on getting into outdoor climbing at some point."

Sherar echoed that sentiment, adding that there is a very different approach in how one climbs indoors versus outdoors.

"When you are doing indoor climbing, you have these preexisting holds that you can map out ahead of time and figure out the way to the top," he said. "Outdoor climbing is much less controlled, and you have a lot more freedom choosing where you want to grab, but that also comes with more risk."

According to Maier, part of mitigating that risk while outdoor climbing is using your common sense.

"Don't trust the random guy on YouTube, take the necessary precautions, take a class," he said. "If you are excited about it, you can find other people who can help you get the gear you need. That's kind of what makes it so easy to get into—there is always someone to help you."

Whether it's outdoor or indoor, Maier and Sherar say that rock climbing is something that everyone on the Central Coast should try, and there's no reason not to take advantage of all that's accessible so close to home.

"I grew up in Sacramento, so I didn't have a spot five minutes away from my house like I do here," Maier said. "I feel like we are extremely lucky on the Central Coast, especially SLO, to have so many spots—and that's not even including The Pad itself."

Bishop and Cabrillo peaks offer a variety of spots that range from beginner-friendly to advanced.


"Climbers have a great rating system that allows you to not get over your head for all of these places based on the number of ratings the spot receives," Maier said. "We also have other resources like the Mountain Project website that helps show where all of the local climbing spots might be and how difficult they are on the scale."

One spot that Maier recommends for beginners is on Cabrillo Peak.

"The Rockland is a perfect beginner sport climb, especially for those who are coming from the indoor climbing experience," he said.

The Central Coast also offers spots in Santa Barbara and even Ojai—should prospective climbers want to venture farther south.

Maier, who has been climbing since 2011, said that the bevy of options for outdoor climbing can be overwhelming at first.

"It's all about taking it one step at a time and not skipping the middle ground," he said. "Strength isn't the only thing that is keeping you safe when you are on the rocks."

For Maier, as long as one keeps their wits about them and brings a group of friends, veterans, and passionate climbers with them—indoor or outdoor—the experience is unlike any other physical activity.

"Like many athletic pursuits, it's sort of meditative and clears your mind," he said. "I think that it's more that than other types of sports. It's this avenue into beautiful places that makes it way more special than just going out into a field."

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