Everyone has seen pictures of fearless climbers in colorful clothing, hanging off tiny little grips on a huge granite wall. As we look on in awe and disbelief, rock climbing seems like something only the craziest of us would attempt. However, with every sport and hobby, it has humble beginnings. Practicing in safer terrains, climbers and those interested are increasingly finding themselves in a climbing gym. Over the past few years, climbing gyms have evolved from being solely focused on hard core athletes to being family-friendly experiences, offering challenges for experts and novices alike. The gym walls, filled with colorful grips, create routes for all levels of difficulty. The floors are covered in bouncy mats offering safe landings and a break from the hard surfaces you were just scaling.
Last year, with the Dawn Wall spectacle, climbing has had it’s breakout moment. However, for the past few decades, the sport has been growing in popularity, with climbing gyms have been popping up in the flattest of cities across the country. From an outside perspective, the sport is trendy right now. Rock climbing has shifted from only being a hobby of hardcore athletes to the mainstream. It has also become a great way to challenge both your mind and body, as well as being a fanastic alternative to standard team sports that are known to leave many athletes with serious head injuries and trauma.
My family has been going to our local climbing gym for almost a year now and my kids love it. They love the time they get to spend with their parents, they love the gear, and of course they love the bouncy mats and the fun community. Exploring new challenges on the wall, our whole family stays fit and happy. Climbing gives us clear minds and refreshes us from the stresses and concerns of our days.
Because we climb so much, and enjoy the sport, I decided to sit down and chat with the the operations director of the Warehouse Rock Gym in downtown Olympia, WA, Esteban. The gym has been part of the community for over 10 years. Housed in a cool warehouse (as the name gives away), it has attracted climbers from around the area. Fun for all, the gym has also been hosting kid’s birthday parties and other fun events throughout the year. In 2016, we will see a big expansion, as the gym will be moving into their brand new, expanded digs in Hawks Prairie/Lacey.
TOS: What’s the best way for a family to get started at a climbing gym?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: We provide all of the gear and instruction needed to start climbing in our gym. To get started, a family need only show up at our gym. We offer both memberships and day passes for climbing. Day passes allow new climbers to try climbing without making any long term commitment to climbing. We of course think everyone will love climbing and commit to continue to climb.
TOS: What’s a good age for kids to get started?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: By age five, most kids are ready to start climbing. We offer a free trial for kids age four and under. This provides parents the opportunity to let their kids try climbing at no charge.
TOS: Climbing requires a lot of gear. What’s the minimum gear requirements in your opinion?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: The minimum gear depends on the type of climbing. For bouldering, climbers only need a pair of climbing shoes. For rope climbing, climbers will also need a climbing harness and a belay device. To help new climbers get started in the gym, we provide all of the necessary rental gear. Once climbers decide they are committed to continue to climb, we sell a climber’s starter package for “roped climbing” at a discounted price. The climber’s package includes shoes, harness, locking carabiner, and belay device, a chalk bag and chalk.
TOS: Tell me a little bit of what makes climbing gyms unique compared to other gyms?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: In addition to being great exercise, climbing provides mental challenges. To keep climbers challenged and stimulated, we regularly set new climbing routes in the gym. By continually challenging our customers with new routes, we eliminate the possibility of become bored with routine exercise. Climbing is also very social. Rather than tuning out by listening to music or watching TV while exercising on a machine, climbers regularly interact with other climbers in the gym. We see our members build very close relationships and our community is what makes the climbing gym experience so positive.
TOS: Climbing can look dangerous. How do you avoid getting hurt?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: We, of course, provide personal instruction on how to climb safely and our staff are always available to to provide tips on preventing injuries. From personal experience I would say that the biggest challenges are to give your body enough rest between sessions to recuperate.
TOS: After bouldering for a bit and getting a feel for things, what are some great next step?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: Once a new climber tries climbing and discovers they want to continue, they should sign up for one of our instructional courses. Our instructors can advance and accelerate the learning process for climbing. Good instruction greatly enhances the climbing experience. Participating in a group instructional course is also a great way to meet other new climbers.
TOS: Of course climbing indoors is only half the fun, how to take what you learned outdoors?
The Warehouse Rock Gym: We provide personal instruction to transfer learned indoor climbing skills to the outdoors. The perceived step can be intimidating and we will be offering more programs in the future to try to to bridge that gap for climbers that are looking to make that step.
We at The Outdoor Society would like to thank Esteban and his team at Warehouse Rock Gym. Thank you all so much for your time, for running the gym and for continuing to bring an awesome activity to Olympia. We will see you at the gym!
You can find our more about the Warehouse Rock Gym by visiting their website, or visit them in person at 315 Jefferson St. NE, in downtown Olympia, right across the street from the Hands on Children’s Museum on Eastbay.
Below is a map of all the gyms in Washington State.