Climbing Indoors

New climbing gym offers altitude without the weather

Posted: Thursday, November 08, 2001

Juneau has a new playground of sorts, one where climbing the walls is a stress-buster, not a sign of tension.

The Rock Dump Indoor Climbing Gym holds its grand opening Friday at 1310 Eastaugh Way, a large green metal building near Alaska Litho at the Thane Road rock dump.

Matt Cecil, who owns the business with his wife, Ami, came up with the idea after considering Juneau's population and looking at similar gyms in other communities.

"I thought it would be just perfect for this area. A lot of climbers, a lot of bad weather," Cecil said.

The gym provides a mix of climbing experiences.

Rough-painted walls of green, orange, yellow, blue and gray run at odd angles 30 to 40 feet up from a graveled floor. In the middle stands a twisted, free-standing pillar that gives access to a hanging purple fixture called The Stalactite. Mounted on the surfaces are more than 2,000 grips or handholds shaped like leftovers from the spare-parts cabinet at Dr. Frankenstein's lab.

Among the steep walls and tight chimneys are areas for those not used to hanging from steep slopes. Some walls are at lesser angles and a lower "bouldering" area resembles a child's playroom turned upside down.

Cecil said The Rock Dump expects to attract more than experienced climbers.

"We've got a lot of easy terrain," he said. "There aren't that many experts in town."

The walls are made of textured plywood on wood frames, allowing for a variety of climbing paths and grips. In addition to handhold-based routes, some walls have rounded holes called finger pockets similar to what one would find in limestone cliffs. Chimneys imitate wide cracks like those common in granite. A rimmed protrusion called the Congo Pole allows climbers to lean back and walk their way up the wall.

"It's like climbing a banana tree," Cecil said.

Those climbing use safety harnesses and ropes to prevent or slow falls. With 32 top ropes installed, Cecil figures The Rock Dump will be able to handle about 60 people at a time. And if users get bored, grips can be moved and new climbing routes created.

"It's versatile. If we don't like something we can pull it out," he said.

The Rock Dump is the product of more than two years of design and construction overseen by the Cecils and Marcel LaPerriere, a Ketchikan climber, caver and builder who once ran his own climbing gym.

"Being a longtime climber, I knew what kinds of challenges climbing presented," LaPerriere said. "My goal was to get as many of the challenges as possible into an artificial wall."

In addition to the climbing area, the gym includes locker rooms, a retail sales area and a meeting room. Some amenities, such as the lockers, will come later. LaPerriere said the gym is probably the largest indoor climbing facility in Alaska and is nearly as large as the two major climbing gyms in Seattle.

Hours will be 2-10 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. weekends. Bookings for birthday parties and other events are available, and classes are planned.

"We have the talent in town to teach just about anything," Cecil said.

Fees are $12 per day for adults, $10 for students 14-18 and $8 for children under 14. Monthly passes are $40 for adults, $35 for students and $30 for children. Annual passes are $400 for adults, $350 for students and $300 for children. Discounts are available for children and families.

LaPerriere said climbing is a good family activity as long as the parents are willing to be outpaced by their children.

"When you get a kid who can do something better than their parents, it's a big ego boost," he said.

LaPerriere and Cecil both enjoy outdoor climbing, but said local weather and rock conditions limit what can be done in nature.

"It's really challenging. The rock isn't really that great. It's not that safe either," Cecil said.

With proper supervision and use of safety harnesses, however, indoor climbing can be relatively safe. Cecil said he found out just how safe when he compared insurance rates for climbing gyms and other indoor recreation facilities.

"We're rated safer than a treadmill and about as safe as bowling," he said.

*****

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.



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