Beth Rodden on Gyms, Crags, and the Future of ClimbingThu, 28/06/2012 - 18:11 — Petzl America
I’ve had a spring full of travel this year. It hasn’t been like last year’s Font, Catalunya, and Norway-filled spring, but rather a spring full of clinics, shows, dealer visits, and other “work.” Along with getting out and seeing local crags and communities, I’ve also had the pleasure of frequenting some of the newest gyms in the country.
I’m a product of the gym. I know some people probably cringe to think that my generation started in the chalky gym, but at least I’ve got good company, with Chris Sharma, Katie Brown, and Alex Honnold. I suspect that the number of great climbers that start climbing outside in the mountains will dwindle as the number of gyms across the country rises. This might sound unfortunate to many of the old-guard mountaineers, but a lot of amazing climbers start in the gym. Sometimes it’s best just to embrace change.
Beth Rodden competing in a Junior Nationals in Pontiac, Michigan, circa 1990s. Photo: The Beth Rodden Collection.
A few months ago, I was in Atlanta with the good folks of REI. We wanted to do a couple hours of climbing, but didn’t have time to drive to the closest crag. Luckily, Stone Summit was close by and is probably bigger than some of the local crags, anyway. I’m used to the big gyms of California and Colorado, but Stone Summit has taken things to a new level.
“On some routes, you need a 70-meter rope to lower.” My friend Whitney Boland warned me a few days prior to my visit.
“Huh, okay,” I thought skeptically. Most of the climbing areas I started climbing at don’t even need a 70; she must have been exaggerating.
Sure enough, as the door closed behind me, I stood corrected. Huge orange, blue and white walls rose up from the padded floor. Roofs, corners, arêtes, and thousands of holds sprinkled the climbing surfaces. The routes dwarfed the climbers. The gym stretched from side to side farther than we could see from the door. Basically, it was enormous. Surely a few hours in here would equal a few hours at Jailhouse or Foster Falls.
With more and more mega gyms popping up across the country, it seems they are slowly taking the place of crags. In the Bay Area, people often take a climbing trip to another gym rather than make the trek to the Sierras. With ever-changing routes, varied terrain, and climate control, they give people reliable places to climb without the commute.
My favorite thing about climbing is being in the mountains -- the crisp air, the sounds of the wildlife, and the calmness that gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the cities -- it compliments the type of climbing I gravitate towards: fun and adventurous. My other favorite thing about climbing is being with good friends. The latter is totally attainable with the new trend of gym hopping. Perhaps this is why so many people are attracted to plastic. It can be shared with friends, provides a great workout, all without the bother of mosquitos, ticks, conditions, etc.
The massive walls of Stone Summit, a mega gym in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: © Beth Rodden.
For a month or two last winter, I fell into the gym-hopping routine. The Sierras had one of the wettest winters on record (followed this year by one of the driest), leaving Yosemite out of climbing commission for months. There are four huge gyms within a 20-mile radius of San Francisco, and each weekend I’d visit a new gym and enjoy the new routes, new people, and a new workout. While I much prefer clipping bolts at the crag or plugging cams in the mountains, it was a nice alternative while Mother Nature unleashed her wrath.
I’m not sure what the next generation of gyms will be. One hundred-foot high walls? Whole city blocks? Only time will tell, but I do know that it’s going to be exciting to see the talent that comes out of the current mega gyms. And I know that whenever I’m traveling, if I can’t make it out to the local crag, you’ll definitely find me at the gym.
For more from Beth Rodden, visit her blog: http://blog.bethrodden.com.