Though I’m a lifelong hiker and skier — meaning I’m definitely not risk-averse — I’ve never been able to take the leap into serious rock climbing.

Rock climbing, a sport practiced around the world for ages, has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Much of this growth has coincided with the construction of indoor rock gyms, like Maine Rock Gym in Portland and the facilities near Sugarloaf and Sunday River. As gym climbers gain skills inside year-round, they naturally want to take their climbs into the great outdoors. And Maine has plenty of features to appeal to novice and expert climbers, from seaside bluffs to massive inland mountains.

Looking into climbing, my first concern was simpler than cost, risk or equipment: Am I even fit enough to go rock climbing?

Jon Tierney, owner of Acadia Mountain Guides and a licensed climbing instructor, assured me that climbing is within reach of pretty much anyone. “Going up stairs or a ladder is climbing,” he reminded me, “so that is a good benchmark.” Like traditional hiking, there’s a wide range of difficulty in climbing.

Obviously, if you’d like to scale a sheer 2,000-foot face, you’ll need to be a bit more toned than if you’d like to complete a novice climb. But for the most part, if you’re in decent shape, climbing is within reach.

So, great news. If you’re fit, you can climb. How about cost?

“The initial investment is fairly low to climb inside,” said Chuck Curry of Portland’s Maine Rock Gym. A harness and climbing shoes cost in the neighborhood of $140, and the typical rock gym membership still will keep you under $200. A month at MRG, for example, costs $54.50.

Climbing outside requires a bit more equipment and thus a bit more expense. A harness, chalk, belay devices, rope and anchor gear and other accoutrements make rock climbing a bit more costly. However, for bouldering — short climbs without ropes — shoes, chalk and a crash pad are all a climber needs.

Both Tierney and Curry stress that while it is possible to teach yourself to climb, it’s a better idea to learn from a professional. Most importantly, you’re much safer in the hands of a professional. As easy as it may seem to get started climbing, it can be a sport of high consequence if you make an error. Under the watchful eye of an instructor or guide, you can advance light years beyond what you would on your own in a fraction of the time.

It’s not unlike learning to ski or sail — while you can figure plenty out on your own, a knowledgeable instructor corrects misconceptions about the sport, fills gaps in knowledge and progresses you in a sensible way.

Both Maine Rock Gym and Acadia Mountain Guides offer a wide range of lessons for first-time and experienced climbers. MRG offers indoor climbing clinics for all skill levels, as well as a guide service that facilitates people climbing outside. AMG hosts classes for rock, ice and mountaineering throughout the year, with family climbs, private guiding and Katahdin winter ascents being among the most popular.

The climbing enthusiasts I spoke with pointed to a number of reasons that Maine is a great place to pick up the sport. Key among these is diversity. In Acadia National Park, there are dozens of climbing routes with fantastic coastal views. While a hike up Precipice will net some impressive sights, they can’t quite compare to the perspective from the classic “Old Town” and “Return to Forever” ascents — two that Curry names as favorites. Clifton, east of Bangor, is also a haven for climbers.

Further inland, Katahdin offers summer routes that Tierney compares with “the Tetons without the altitude.” In the winter, Katahdin hosts a mix of rock, ice and snow climbs that range from 200 to 2,000 feet. In the western mountains and along the New Hampshire border, climbers pour superlatives on routes that offer technical difficulty and are far enough from urban centers to keep crowds at bay.

There are even some dedicated climbers who go bouldering on the rocks at Nubble, Portland Head Light and other Maine lighthouses.

Climbing is one of the great year-round athletic pursuits, be it scaling summer rocks and winter ice or climbing 365 days a year at an indoor gym. With the modest investment and huge returns, rock climbing is yet another way that all Mainers can get a stunning new perspective on our state.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at: [email protected]