Back in the days when climbers approached climbing mountains more like sieging a castle than, well, climbing a mountain, initiation into the club of ascension was a complex and difficult matter.
A neophyte had to find a person who would be patient enough to teach them how to do dangerous things and trusting enough to put their life in the hands of their student. Gear was cumbersome and heavy, and climbing outdoors in the winter meant traveling somewhere warm — or suffering, cold and exposed on local cliffs.
Then, like a magic bean, the climbing gym with its plastic holds began popping up from the landscape.
Right now, the Treasure Valley is in the midst of a climbing-gym boom. In the next couple of months, the number of gyms here will triple as The Commons and Vertical View climbing gyms open their doors.
Currently, the 20,000-square-foot Asana Rock Climbing & Bouldering Gym is the only game in town after Boise’s much-loved Urban Ascent Climbing Gym closed in the spring of 2018.
The new gyms will have a “positive impact” on the climbing scene in the Treasure Valley, said Asana Climbing Gym owner Rory O’Leary.
“Maybe in the beginning there will be some challenges, but it will overall increase the exposure of climbing in the valley,” he said.
Professional climber and Boise native Matt Fultz said the new gyms will make climbing in the Treasure Valley more accessible.
Fultz, a man who now climbs world-class boulder problems in locales like Fontainebleau in France and Mount Evans in Colorado, said the gym is a key stepping-stone and building block for people hoping to climb outdoors.
“Gym climbing is by far the best way to start out,” Fultz said over email. ”The convenience, variety, controlled environment, and fun these facilities can provide creates the perfect environment for testing yourself against the wall.”
Asana’s focus on bouldering, which is unroped climbing that takes place closer to the ground, is different than the focus at the two new gyms, which include bouldering areas but focus on top-rope and lead climbing with ropes and harnesses. Asana has about 150 bouldering routes and 50 roped routes up 30-foot walls on 8,900 feet of climbable surface, O’Leary said.
“Roped climbing is like long-distance running, and bouldering is more like sprinting,” said O’Leary, adding both types of climbing are separate “subcultures” in the wider world of climbing.
Room with a view
Rising next to Interstate 84 in Meridian, Vertical View Climbing Gym’s outside belies how truly big the facility is inside.
When finished, 32,000-square-foot, three-story Vertical View will feature 18,000 square feet devoted to climbing and about 160 roped and bouldering routes at any one time.
After opening early next year, Vertical View will have the tallest indoor roped walls in the Pacific Northwest, according to Tyler Pape, the gym’s administrative director.
With a 65-foot “Champion’s Wall,” numerous other roped walls, a bouldering area, two yoga studios, a weight and cardio gym, a birthday-party area, a corporate reception room, an outdoor deck, an elevator and an amphitheater to watch climbers on the big walls, the space is breathtaking in more ways than one.
There’s a high demand for indoor climbing opportunities in the Treasure Valley, and gyms like Vertical View and The Commons are expecting people to flood in the door.
Vertical View’s owners hope to have a soft opening in January and a grand opening soon after.
“In the beginning, it’s going to be a madhouse,” Pape said. “We’re expecting about 2,000 people in the first month, and that might be a little low.”
Pape said the Treasure Valley has “always had a rock-climbing niche.” However, he believes the area’s existing indoor climbing facility has not yet met the public’s desire for bigger places and spaces.
“We felt like Boise is a little behind other communities,” Pape said.
In the future, he hopes Vertical View will host national climbing competitions or “comps” — one of the reasons the 65-foot main wall is nicknamed the “Champion’s Wall.”
“The whole design of the gym is made to hold cool comps, where you can cram the floor and bring in world-renowned climbers,” said Pape, sharing a vision that would bring Boise online as an up-and-coming climbing center.
The glory of the Commons
The Commons Climbing Gym — under construction on Emerald Street on the Boise Bench — has roots with the former Boise climbing gym Urban Ascent. Clint Colwell, the general manager of The Commons, said he and his partners — all former Urban Ascent staff — had been looking to open another climbing facility after Urban Ascent closed in 2018 following its sale and was turned into affordable housing.
Getting a new climbing gym up and running became their goal. To that end, they have put together a “Hold Drive,” so people can purchase and donate holds to the gym.
The Commons will feature 14,500 square feet of climbing space, with up to 160 roped and bouldering routes. The roped walls will be 45-feet tall, Colwell said.
The Commons is slated to open sometime in the middle of this winter, toward late January or early February.
In addition to climbing, The Commons will offer yoga, climbing-specific training, weights, treadmills, resistance bands — but it “won’t be a huge, Planet Fitness or globo gym-type place,” Colwell said.
In another building on site, Benchhouse Brewing Company is slated to open sometime in the summer of 2020.
“Our goal is to be a community, and we want everyone to be here,” Colwell said. “And I know that sounds like a cliche, but that’s our goal.”
Offering a variety of activities is part of that goal of drawing in the climbing community, but that’s not to forsake the climbing.
“If you climb V15, 5.15, 5.14, if you’re the hardest person in the west or if you woke up and were browsing Instagram and saw it and were like, ‘I wonder if I can do that,’ everyone is equally welcome here,” Colwell said.
Growth & expansion
Climbing has been exploding in popularity, according to the American Alpine Club’s 2019 “State of Climbing Report,” and it’ll make its debut in the Olympic Games next summer in Toyko.
There were 7.7 million climbers in the United States in 2018, and 65% of them were between the ages of 18 and 35, according to data collected by the Outdoor Industry Association.
And those climbers are going to the gym: Some 4.4% of all Americans as of 2018 climb indoors, a statistic that was not even gathered 10 years ago, according to the OIA.
Gyms appear to be part of this cycle of growth, said Fultz, now a climbing team coach in Boulder, Colorado, and a professional climber sponsored by Asana Climbing, the climbing gear company that owns the Asana climbing gym in Garden City.
“I think that new climbing gyms create a positive, forward-feeding cycle” Fultz said via email. “New gyms expose new climbers to our wonderful sport; the new climbers invite their friends, which creates more demand for new gyms.”
Boise has been home to a wild growth in climbing and climbers in the last decade, he added.
“Not too long ago (less than 10 years) there were just a few of us, honing our skills at the Nampa Recreation Center to prepare for outdoor projects,” Fultz said.
Filling a role
Pape, Colwell and Fultz all see climbing gyms filling a desire people have to try something on the edge, something potentially dangerous that makes them feel excited and alive.
A gym offers the opportunity to do what was once a difficult and fraught experience and turns it into both an everyday action of working out and the thrill of danger at the same time.
“There’s an element of risk, but it’s in a much more controlled manner,” Colwell said.
A gym’s controlled environment can serve as an incubator for people hoping to climb inside or outside, and for others interested in simply learning about the sport.
“We want to create climbers in Boise,” Pape said, and added, while most people won’t become a genius climber, the opportunity to climb is a key part of growing the sport.
“It’s a mental puzzle: It’s you versus the wall, the rock,” he said.
“Climbing is not just for thrill-seekers or adrenaline-junkies — climbing is for anyone that likes to have fun while challenging themselves,” he said.
Fultz said he’s looking forward to checking out Vertical View and The Commons when he’s next in Boise.
“I’m so excited to check out these new gyms, and interested to see where it takes the sport in the coming years,” he said.