The new management of The Rock Dump is hoping to take the local climbing gym to new heights.
Jeremy Hansen and Tyler Gress, owners of Balance Climbing, a specialty climbing and yoga gear store located above the gym, took over as business consultants of The Rock Dump in August and are working to create a new vibe at the climbing center located south of downtown. They have spearheaded a campaign to put a new face on the gym through corporate team-building, a competitive climbing team, subsidized youth climbing, movie nights and more.
"Something that we're really interested in is making sure the community knows The Rock Dump is out here as an activity, as something to do, as a community asset," Hansen said. "We're just trying to get more people in touch with it."
"We're just kind of trying to put a bit of a new face on the business and revitalize the interest in the community," Gress said.
Since the climbing gym opened in 2001, the sport has really taken off, he added.
"Really since the gym started there has been an explosion in climbing in general nationwide, even locally, but we haven't necessarily seen that translate into more people climbing in the gym," Gress said.
Many climbing gyms in the Lower 48 are used more like training centers for climbers to hone their techniques and increase strength and stamina before venturing out to tackle natural routes, he said. There is a rather limited number of "serious" climbers that reside in Juneau, he added.
"Everyone that's a serious climber goes elsewhere to climb," Gress said. "Locally, I know there are some folks who are working really hard on route development on the road system. And quite a bit went into that last summer."
One of the most visible, and dangerous, places to climb outside The Rock Dump is on Fritz Cove Road. New routes have been established in the area as well as out the road near 33 mile, he said.
"Maybe a dozen new routes went up that like doubled the climbing potential in town," Gress said.
There are basically several categories of climbers in town, Hansen said.
"There is the group of people that have developed a love for climbing and will do it no matter what no matter where they are," he said. "There are the people that do it because they want to try something new and it will stick because they want to make it a hobby. And then a major portion of our revenue is the parties and that sort of thing. It's a real fun social activity."
Ryan Aguilar, 32, said he began climbing at The Rock Dump two years ago and it has quickly become a hobby.
"You can challenge yourself in a pretty quick everyday basis, I guess," he said. "Like every time you're in there, every session, you can see quick gains. The exercise part of it is pretty cool, too."
Although he hasn't spent much time in other climbing gyms, Aguilar said The Rock Dump has a very relaxed vibe.
"The environment is really nice, even if you're just starting out or if you're an experienced climber that has been doing it for years," he said. "They provide a good climate in there, and that makes it a lot more fun for me and other climbers around, too."
Hansen and Gress hope the climbing enthusiasm will continue to grow in the community, particularly as an activity for youth. They have been working diligently to provide more opportunities for kids, including the addition of a high-school climbing club. The gym just completed a fall session for high-school students that had more than a dozen kids climbing for free two days a week for a month.
The gym also is putting together a competitive climbing team, just getting off the ground, that includes training sessions and coaching. In addition, this winter they hope to have post-skiing movie nights at 6 p.m. on Saturdays for kids to have a place to hang out.
Avid climber and The Rock Dump manager Lindsey Edgar, 22, said she would like to see the climbing gym be a place that young people in Juneau want to go and socialize, climb and have fun.
"I would love to see in the social world, instead of kids saying 'Hey, let's go hang out at the mall,' instead say, 'Hey, let's go hang out at The Rock Dump,'" she said.
And while some may be more proficient or skilled at climbing than others, Edgar said she thinks anyone can get into the sport.
"I know people that come in and are like, 'I'm terrified of heights but my friends are here and I want to do this. Help me out,'" she said. "So if I get them on an easy route, the hardest thing for those kind of people is letting go of the wall and testing the rope and being that high off the ground. But once you do it a couple of times, we got people that are totally afraid of heights and they leave without a problem. They love it."
Hansen and Gress are hoping to help more people overcome their fears and build morale through group team-building exercises and ropes courses at the gym. The gym is open daily to the public from 3 to 10 p.m. but the managers hope to have more small businesses, government offices and local corporations sign up for the courses in the morning.
"Really if the gym is going to thrive and continue to be available in town, filling out the rest of the day is pretty important for the business," Gress said. "We're trying to make people aware of that."
Edgar said climbing is a passion that can easily become an obsession.
"Everyone's got their own thing going, I guess, mine's just climbing," she said. "I love the way it makes you feel. It pumps me up."
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.