Climbing Gyms Are The New Crags
Indoor climbing isn’t just a great way to train for rock climbing, it’s a sport in itself. Wayne Merry, who was on the first ascent of The Nose on El Capitan in 1947, said this winter, “Sitting around the campfire at Camp 4 in the 1950s, we couldn’t even have conceived the possibility that climbing would evolve to this.” And what it’s evolved to be is a multi-discipline sport with tens of thousands of participants who travel to climb, compete, train and explore.
There were no climbing gyms in the 1950s, the f irst indoor artif icial wall was built in 1964 by Don Robinson at Leeds University in the U.K. Climbers had no idea that in 2018 there would be hundreds of gyms in North America with countless climbers scaling walls in major metropolitan areas. But here we are and indoor climbing is booming. In fact, climbing gyms have become the new crags.
At any given time, at any given gym, you’ll find puppies sleeping next to expensive urban backpacks, chalk-covered climbers, ditched post-session tape on the f loor, scrappy brushes being scrubbed against holds, ropes hanging and being hung, screams of frustration and joy, pumped and tired people, and senders and observers. Gyms are places to push yourself and have fun.
As access becomes an issue at most of North America and Europe’s famous climbing areas and the number of climbers continues to rise, creating new spaces is crucial. And what better way to do that than with gyms. There are so many reasons to climb indoors: great community, close to the pub, easy to get to, clean, close bolts for lead climbing, squishy f loors for falling, new routes and problems, training tools and you can get a lot of laps in during your visit.
Indoor climbing will never give you that rush of being up high on exposed rock with ravens soaring around, the sound of a creek or the breeze blowing, the threat of bad weather or a summit, but it will give you everything else you’re looking for when you go climbing. And you won’t have the threat of rockfall, a lightning strike or being rained out. Of course, for you gym-only climbers who do want to head outdoors to climb, there are a few things to know, such as crag etiquette, how to deal with loose rock, where to stand to belay and that the bolts are farther apart than indoors.
My life as a climber started on the textured plywood walls of a climbing gym and the majority of my climb-time is still spent inside. Most climbers, especially in 2018, will start their climbinglife indoors. And some, maybe even most, will never venture far from the air-conditioned and staff-run spaces found in urban centres. And why should they? I salute you indoor-only climbers and hope to see you around the gyms – I mean crags – this year.