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The Climbing Wall in Point Breeze offers tests

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2007

The Climbing Wall indoor rock gym opened in the fall of 1992 with 7,000 square feet of climbing space in an old factory in Point Breeze.

Rock climbing itself was still on the very fringe of the mainstream, and gyms that bolted hand and footholds to walls to simulate the experience indoors were rare.

But as the sport has grown in popularity over the years, so has The Climbing Wall.

The gym doubled in size to roughly 14,000 square feet three years ago. It now averages more than 60 climbers per night during the busy seasons of fall and winter when the weather turns bad, and outdoors enthusiasts are forced inside.

"It's the cool thing to do, they show it on TV, and now everybody kind of knows what it is, whereas before in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was relatively new and not everybody knew about it," Climbing Wall manager Andrea Bureau said.

Most people have probably seen artificial climbing walls in some form or another, whether at amusement parks, fairs or boardwalks during the summer, at a store such as REI in the South Side Works or on television through avenues such as the X Games.

According to research done by the Outdoor Industry Foundation in its 2006 Outdoor Recreation Participation Study, artificial wall climbing drew 6.7 million participants in the U.S. in 2005. The study also found that males outnumber females nearly two to one, that 59 percent of participants were 16-24 years old and another nearly one quarter were 25-34 years old.

Bureau said that while The Climbing Wall draws all types of participants, from families and children starting at age six through one regular who's 75 years old, the majority are college students and young professionals.

The most popular night is Wednesday, which is ladies' night, and women climb for half-price.

"We get a lot of women on Wednesdays, then we get a lot of men who come to look at the women on Wednesdays," Bureau said.

While it might seem that the more muscular a person is, the better a climber he or she will be, Bureau said that's not the case.

"It's a common misconception," she said. "Usually, when we get the big, bulky guys that work out at the gym, they come in here, and they had a really hard time. Then, you get a scrawny woman who doesn't look she has any muscle on her, and she just flies up the wall. It's not so much about strength as it is balance and flexibility."

Bureau said that climbing is also about lower body strength, which is why women often do as well as men in the sport.

"Men tend to forget they have legs, and women are so used to not having that power in their upper body that we're so used to using our lower body," she said. "I think it's a sport where women and men are almost on an equal playing field, which makes it really cool because any other sport, men a lot of times will dominate because of their physique. This isn't the case in climbing."

There are two types of climbing available at The Climbing Wall: bouldering and top roping.

In bouldering, there are no ropes and climbers ascend short routes that end roughly 12-16 feet off the ground. The floor has give for a soft landing, and "crash pads" are also scattered around the area. Bouldering offers the benefit of being able to walk in off the street and climb without taking a class or having a partner.

In top-roping, climbers wear harnesses and tie into a rope, which is held by their partner, or belayer, on the ground. In order to top rope at The Climbing Wall, participants either have to take a safety and belay certification class, or prove to staff that they already know what to do and get certified that way.

Bureau said the gym is set up so that both beginners and experienced climbers can have a good workout and success at the same time.

"We want the customer to come in, climb and have fun," Bureau said. "If they can't get up anything, they're not going to come back."


Getting started

The Climbing Wall is located in The Factory at 7501 Penn Avenue in Point Breeze, near the corner of Penn and Braddock avenues. Shoes and all other required equipment is available for rental. An all-day pass to the gym is $12, $10 for youth under 15 and college students with ID.

Top Roping - Requires a partner, and both climbers must either take a safety and belay certification class or prove to the staff that they know proper climbing methods before starting. There are 15 walls ranging from 15-30 feet, with varying degrees of difficulty ranging from routes rated 5.5 for beginners to 5.12/13 for experts.

Bouldering - No ropes, no partner needed, no certification needed. The gym has 8,000 square feet of bouldering space, with a variety of routes ranging from a VB rating for beginners up through V9 for experts.

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