Robert Lavarnway wants to clear up a common misconception about rock climbing — one that’ll save all of you poor schmucks from having to buy a pair of dumbbells and a case of Beefcake protein powder. “Most people incorrectly think that they have to have good upper body strength to climb. Climbing should be about 70 percent legs and 30 percent arms,” Lavarnway, the outdoor recreation coordinator for climbing programs for the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, says. “That being said, climbing is like a puzzle. A climber looks for the optimal place to put their feet and hands and then has to decide how to move off of that position.”

The 50-foot climbing wall at James Island County Park is the Lowcountry’s tallest outdoor climbing facility and features over 4,500 square feet of climbing space with 14 top ropes and two lead climbing walls. Mix in the nearby bouldering cave and you’ve got over 6,000 square feet of climbing surface.

For less than 20 bucks, you can get a day pass, shoe rental, harness, and chalk bag. Once you have all of your supplies, the next step is to jump right in and start climbing. “Most of climbing instruction is done with the student actually on the wall,” Lavarnway says. “The best way to get better at climbing is to climb.”

Each time a climber comes to the wall, they are given a short mini-lesson on a topic to help improve their climbing technique, such as balance or footwork. After the mini-lesson, the student is allowed to try the new methods out for themselves. With the instructor standing close by, the student is then given feedback on their form.

With up to 100 climbers at the climbing wall on a single day, Lavarnway is always busy. Along with managing the climbing wall and its 12 part-time employees, he is in charge of leading climbing trips in the North Carolina mountains and planning climbing competitions. For the more ambitious climbers, Lavarnway also offers certification courses for prospective climbing wall instructors.

Of course, you can’t go rock climbing unless you have a skilled belayer on the ground below you. Belaying, which is critical for the safety of the climber, involves controlling the safety rope that holds the climber in the air. The belayer gradually gives the rope slack so that the climber is able to move up the climbing wall. The county park offers belaying classes every Tuesday night of the summer and on Saturday mornings.

Climbing Wall at James Island County Park

871 Riverland Drive

James Island

(843) 795-7275

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