Feature Article - April 2010
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From The Ground Up

What You Need to Know to Get Climbing Done Right

By Matthew M.F. Miller

Maintain or Upgrade

Upgrades and maintenance are fairly easy for climbing walls. After installation, trained staff members should conduct quarterly inspections of all ropes, equipment and wall structures for possible problems. An annual inspection by a contractor is essential and often required by some states. Every piece of equipment related to the climbing wall should have its own usage log that records service dates, hours of usage, inspections and equipment failures, if any.

"Climbing wall maintenance," Moore said, "is actually very easy. The handholds need to be cleaned regularly for both hygiene and appearance. On smaller walls, this is often the only real maintenance point. On roped walls, anchor points and ropes need to be inspected regularly to ensure their condition. Also on roped walls, it is important to actively encourage and train staff so that they can offer the most help to climbers."

Fisher added that the facility's staff should always be on the lookout for worn or damaged equipment and/or ropes. Top items to check on her list are:

  • Top ropes and lead ropes for signs of excessive wear and abrasion.
  • Bolts and bolt hangers. Make sure bolts are straight, tight and that the hangers are not bent. Make sure all bolts on the wall have quick draws and that they are in good condition
  • Security of the rope anchors and anchors at the top of the lead wall.
  • Check for abrasion on the webbing and grooves in the carabiners.

Of course, as with all equipment in a recreation facility, there will come a time when it's necessary to replace or upgrade. For those looking to remodel, it is a lot easier to spruce up your equipment these days. The most common complaint is old-looking walls as surface wear diminishes the overall appearance and aesthetics of a facility, and leads to decreased satisfaction and participation by climbers.

"Historically, the ability to resurface a climbing wall has been limited and costly," Fisher said. "As a solution, [we] recently introduced…a revolutionary pliable climbing wall resurfacing system that can be applied over existing climbing wall surfaces. (With this) thin-coat system, a 1/16-inch layer of resurfacing is applied to the existing climbing wall, improving appearance and durability without sacrificing performance."

Mrvos said that one hot trend is adding obstacle courses to climbing walls. Her company offers three different sizes of foam "noodles" that fit into specially designed handholds to form loops, lines and starburst obstacles for users to climb over, under, around and through.

Moore said there are other options for increasing climbing in a facility. "Pairing a larger wall with a rotating climbing wall or short traverse wall really works well," he said. "This allows for more intimate on-the-ground coaching and can really help climbers improve and get more out or the climbing wall."

Often, Moore added, the best improvements can be quite simple. "Changing the handholds in a thoughtful manner can really encourage people to think about their bodies and learn new movements," he said. "The mental aspect of climbing is equal to if not greater than the physical."

Once the wall is built, don't expect users to be forever thrilled by the mere idea of scaling. Constant, innovative programming, including competitions, games and obstacle courses, will drive-up usage and provide a deeper, more rewarding experience for all.