It used to be that the only way to experience rock climbing was to drive out to the mountains, find a crag to conquer, and take your chances.
With the advent and recent popularity boom of “extreme sports,” however, indoor rock climbing on man-made walls has developed quite a following among athletes seeking a safe challenge.
Redmond has two indoor climbing facilities — one you’ve probably visited and the other, you’ve most likely never heard of. While they both cater to a variety of skill levels, they differ greatly in what else they have to offer.
REI has been one of the cornerstones of Redmond Town Center since the store, and its gigantic mountain-like rock structure, called a “pinnacle,” opened in 1998. The retailer chain is also a co-op that outdoors enthusiasts can join for a small $20 fee, and get a wealth of benefits in return, including sessions on the pinnacle for little or no cost.
“The price is phenomenal for members,” said Scott Johnson, Assistant Manager at the Redmond REI. “It’s five dollars Monday through Friday and free on the weekends, 20 dollars for non-members. Definitely a very good deal if you’re a member.”
In addition, members get paid back a 10 percent dividend check annually for purchases made at REI stores, and also qualify for discounts in the ski and snowboard shop, rental department and REI travel packages.
All of REI’s “belayers” — assistants that control the rope to prevent the climber from falling — are officially certified, and a number of other safety precautions are taken to ensure the safety of their customers while using the wall.
“Our equipment is very frequently checked and swapped out, it’s a very safe environment,” Johnson said. “The biggest safety factor is truly our people and our equipment, making sure it’s rotated frequently as well as having certified belayers.”
Unlike most other facilities that have indoor climbing, REI features a single pinnacle instead of a wall with holds. Scalable from different points around the pinnacle’s base, each of the many courses varies greatly in difficulty to provide an equal challenge to every level of climber.
“For kids coming in, during their first one they’d do something like the “ladder climb,” but we have everything from that to the more challenging, difficult (courses),” Johnson said. “We have something for all skill levels.”
As one of the top outdoor recreation retailers in the country, what sets REI apart is that shoppers can browse the store’s well-stocked climbing department and actually test the feel of the new equipment or footwear on the pinnacle before purchasing.
“It’s one-stop shopping,” Johnson said. “You can take care of not only your climbing needs, but also your cycling, clothing and footwear needs. You can get a lot done here and have a really good time while you’re at it.”
A CLIMBER’S PARADISE
Unless you’re into the sport, chances are you’ve never been to Vertical World, an enormous indoor climbing facility tucked behind a business park on Northeast 95th street in Redmond. At this two-story warehouse, you won’t be able to buy climbing boots or even that North Face jacket you always wanted, but you will find a climber’s paradise.
Vertical World, which bills itself as “America’s first climbing gym,” features a huge number of walls located in various rooms. While most walls are “top roped,” meaning that rope is anchored to the top of the wall as well as at the bottom, the facility also offers walls with no bottom anchor. Instead, climbers clip themselves to pre-set anchor points as they scale the wall. Should a fall occur, a climber would only fall to the last anchor The facility, one of four Vertical World locations in the greater Seattle area, is a favorite among climbing enthusiasts for the tight-knit, family atmosphere of the gym.
“We’re a localized climbing community,” said assistant manager Chris Ray. “It’s a place for people to meet with fellow climbers, meet new climbers, or take lessons. This is the only business like this in Redmond.”
Vertical World offers memberships at a rate of $49 a month for individuals or $35 for students, offers rentals and is open to the public on a daily basis.
“We do birthday parties, we teach all kinds of classes, private lessons,” Ray said. “We offer school programs throughout the summer and during the school year. We cater to a variety of clientele.”
The week-long summer rock climbing camps at Vertical World, which begin the week of June 30 and run through August, offer youngsters of all ages and skill levels the chance to get introduced to the sport or improve their climbing skills. Also offered are “Adventure” and “Adventure Overnight” camps, which offer kids and teens the rare chance to go on an overnight backpacking trip out to a climb with one of the facility’s certified instructors.
For someone wanting to scale a wall for the first time, having little or no experience is no problem at Vertical World.
“We have an area that’s great for beginners,” Ray said. “It’s not the actual wall that determines the difficulty; it’s the holds that we put on the wall.”
While the numerous holds on the beginner’s wall feature colorful smiley faces and animals, even expert climbers may have difficulty getting a grip on the “slab” courses, which feature steep, inverted walls that lean inward with sparsely placed holds.
Vertical World also changes routes on a weekly basis to make sure that regulars get a different climbing experience every time, even on the same wall.
“All the holds we change on a weekly basis by putting new routes up, altering difficulties and things like that,” Ray said.
The man in charge of changing the course design is head route setter Adam Brossard, who agrees that Vertical World’s friendly atmosphere keeps customers coming back.
“I just think overall it’s our staff — everyone’s really happy here, going into other places you don’t get the customer service,” Brossard said. “People here are really friendly, even the customers, we’re like a family. Almost like a co-op gym, but not really.”
Tim Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (425) 867-0353, ext. 5054.
Info for Info Box:
Vertical World is located at 15036 NE 95th St. in Redmond.
Phone: (425) 881-8826
Web site: HYPERLINK “http://www.verticalworld.com” www.verticalworld.com
REI is located at Redmond Town Center at 7500 166th Ave N.E.
Phone: (425) 882-1158
Web site: HYPERLINK “http://www.rei.com/stores/20” www.rei.com/stores/20