Feature Article - April 2009
Find a printable version here

The Height of Adventure

Climbing Walls for Exercise & Recreation

By Richard Zowie

Variety Is the Spice of Life

The types of climbing walls vary depending on where you go. The differences don't just come from the walls for kids and those for the seasoned climbers. Sometimes recreation centers have their own unique interpretation of what a climbing wall is.

The Rock Club, for example, has what Raue described as a "hugely more complicated structure" than what one might see in smaller facilities with a single wall. Among their structures is a completely freestanding giant indoor mountain with a 30-foot tall arch with undulations. "The term 'wall' doesn't really capture it," Raue said. "What we do is on a vastly larger scale than a lot of gyms. The way the holds are attached is the same. Bolts are fixed onto the wall surfaces that hold the screws in. You can change it in front with a socket wrench. We change holds all the time."

Another climbing wall at The Rock Club is a 20-foot-high, converted racquetball court designed for beginners. Raue described it as "totally unintimidating," adding that it's fit for 4-year-olds.

Kennington said the Paul Derda Recreation Center has one large 3,300-square-foot climbing wall at the facility. It's about 35 feet tall and has a combination of rock surface texture along with high-performance texture. There's also a section where people can "boulder," which has the texture of a real rock surface. Here patrons climb lower to the ground without the need for the protection of rope and harness.

"Size-wise, it's a good fit for our facility," she explained.

Peak Experiences has walls featuring homemade plywood walls with textured paint, walls with concrete and resin blends and ones with high-tech fiberglass. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, Powell said, mainly in terms of cost.

The small walls, he added, are targeted toward beginners, while the 20,000-square-foot textured walls cater to everyone from the beginner to the professional. They also have bouldering-only gyms (which means no ropes, with everything being about 12 to 16 feet off the ground).

"Peak Experiences climbing center has 14,000 square feet of textured surface, which allows us to fully satisfy all ages and levels of ability," Powell said. "People climbing our walls can get 40 feet up in the air hanging from a rope—what's not to love? Kidding aside, it comes back to those two things that everybody seeks—fun and challenge. Whether you're 8 or 80, you want to have fun and be challenged. There is something very primitive about that need, and climbing uniquely fills it in a way that, when the climbing center is run properly, risk is minimized. As for kids, how many places can you climb 40 feet up in the air and have mom and dad pay for it? Seeing mom and dad freak out a little while you're doing it is the icing on the cake!"

Among the unusual features at Peak Experiences are a huge arch that, while visually inspiring, allows the staff there to establish crazy routes that push climbers to really put their technical skills to work. And if that's not enough, there are also two cracks built into the walls that run 35 to 50 feet from the floor to ceiling. Climbers can tape up and get a good workout from them. Then there's the bouldering area with an arch that mirrors the entry's big arch.

"That way, people can work on moves while inverted but only 6 feet off the ground," Powell explained.

They also have something else that few other climbing centers provide, according to Powell: a high-ropes course integrated into the climbing structures.

"This allows us to further our reach into corporate teambuilding and various youth groups and sports teams," he said. "The other great thing about this industry is that as it matures, more and more products are coming into the market that allow you to continue to create new climbing experiences for your customers. …Where you have a flat wall extending out like a roof one day, you can have a huge stalactite hanging down the next. Similarly, a flat vertical wall can turn into a major roof feature within 30 minutes. It's really exciting to see how this industry is evolving."