I've been rock climbing about a year now. The first time I did it was last summer up in the Shawangunks (or as the climbers simply put it, "the gunks"). A good friend of mine was just getting into it and a group of us drove up for the day. As a kid I always loved to climb things and through college I would always sneak up onto rooftops, so this sport definitely fulfills a need in my life.
If you go to a gym, the basic equipment you'll need is a harness (this loops around your waist and attaches you to the rope, your lifeline), a chalk bag (the chalk keeps your hands free from sweat which will cause you to slip), and a good pair of shoes (fits extremely tight on your feet and takes some getting used to....they'll never be comfortable). When you're out on the real rock I would recommend a belay device, a helmet, some slings and a loop chain, and an assortment of carabiners (locking and non-locking). Here's a link to an equipment list by REI if you want to see what I'm talking about.
I find this sport very good for core-strength. Goes very well with yoga. It also helps you with balance and keeps your brain sharp. When climbing, make sure you conserve energy....it can be a long way up.....and stay calm, even when things get real difficult or scary. Some people can get freaked out by the exposure and heights....but remember that you're locked into your rope and trust that your leader has set up good points of protection on the rock face.
At Yosemite the rock is all granite, which is great for climbing. Very solid and climbable. You will get a great mixture of face climbing (scaling the face of the rock) and crack climbing (wedging your hands, fingers or limbs into cracks in the rock). There's so many climbing spots in the valley that there's something for every level of climber. I tend to feel comfortable on grade 5.8 (which is fairly entry-level). But I can do a 5.9 and possibly a 5.10 in short runs with a good belayer.
Off-roading to Area 13 in my rental car
The first climb I did was just with me and Jesse (Jesse James!). An early morning rise, to avoid potential crowds, and it was a short bike ride from our apartment. The route was Bishops Terrace. It was a 160 ft climb involving 2 pitches. Jesse lead of course and I belayed from below. Then I climbed as he belayed me from the top and I cleaned up all the protection off the rock (removing the cams and nuts). We did 2 pitches and then double rappelled down the rock to the ground below. My rope got caught on the way down and I had to climb back up to free it, which was a bit of a challenge because then I had to climb back down (which is trickier than climbing up). It was a great start to the day!
At the anchor station
Jesse praying to the rock climbing gods
rappelling down bishops terrace
The next day we climbed Area 13, which is not in Yosemite Valley but in the Eastern Sierra in Clark Canyon. This was very different rock than the granite I prefer...it is sedimentary and therefore the holds don't feel as solid. Little bits of it can crumble in your hands. But the climb I did was very easy and it was a straight shot up with great views of the canyon.
climbing Area 13
view from the top of the climb
we met Moon while climbing Area 13
The best climb I did was back at Yosemite in an area called Manure Pile Buttress (don't ask why it's called that). The route was Nutcracker and it was 600 ft, 5 pitches and a 5.8/5.9 grade. It took us 5 hours to do and was filled with many challenges. But after a few challenging parts you would get a few easy moments which would then give you time to take it all in and enjoy the views and the fruits of your labor. It was damn exciting mantling over a roof hundreds of feet in the air. Occasionally I would see cute little chipmunks scurrying across the cliff face in front of me. They live up in the crevices and holes.....safe, I suppose, from many of their predators. At one point Jesse dropped his chalk bag and it fell until it caught itself on a bit of roughness about 20 feet below us. I rappelled down to rescue it and self-belayed my way back up. It was a cool feeling to climb up the rock like that. Another new experience was belaying while hanging off the anchor. It was a bit uncomfortable but was cool to be safely leaning off the edge like that. Instead of rappelling down, we hiked down the other side of the mountain. Or basically running down the mountain since Jon and Jesse were late for work.
belaying off the edge
view up to the 4th anchor point
not much room to stand at station 3
a brief rest
Jesse & Jon at the top of Nutcracker
The final climb that week was a 200 ft, 1 pitch crack climb called Jamcrack. After doing Nutcracker this was easy. Right next to it was a 5.10 that I wanted to try but we ran out of time. For this climb we had our friend Natasha have a go. She had never climbed before but was a total natural. She's extremely athletic and took to it right away. I was impressed, especially since she didn't even have the proper climbing shoes.
Jon leading Jackcrack
view up the crack
It was a great experience climbing in Yosemite and I hope to do it again. The biggest climb there is called El Cap, and takes 3 days to do and you have to camp on the mountain. I don't know if I'd ever be interested in something quite so epic, but who knows.