Get a grip: climbing gyms of Edmonton.

I remember when Vertically Inclined first opened up in Edmonton in the 90’s and I begged my parents to go. To no avail it was too far away from so I didn’t have a chance to scale those walls. Flash forward to six months ago and for some reason it finally dawned on me that I lived only a few blocks away from my childhood dream of ascending dizzying heights through clouds of chalk! Climbing has become one of my favourite sports. It forces me to unplug from everything and focus purely on technique and the sport. You can tackle the same route multiple times and always learn something new. My CBC Morning Radio column led me to explore and review all of the climbing gyms that have  in Edmonton.

I’m going to give these my best to give rankings and descriptions but I should be honest in saying that much of my learning in climbing is done by experience; I have not attended any climbing classes which are offered at all three businesses so I can’t venture to rate their quality.  I boulder mostly – that’s climbing without the use of a rope or a harness – so the routes that I frequent are usually going laterally across the wall or only a few feet above the ground. To me, bouldering really focuses more on technique rather than vertical ascent; and if you use the route markers that are set up by the club it can get pretty difficult!

Also, this is an inherently messy and dirty sport. Well manicured hands will get shredded after a few minutes and expect chalk to get crammed into your finger nails and all over your clothes!

Vertically Inclined: Cost for Drop-in $12

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I have a special bias for this rock climbing gym since, to date, most of my knowledge of climbing has been developed here. This is a pure climbing gym; all of the equipment here is focused solely on developing athletes in this sport. They have finger boards, grip boards, climbing ropes and of course two floors of bouldering and vertically ascending bliss! If you are bouldering expect the routes to be mostly horizontal traveling except for the cave which is always a fun challenge. There are so many holds on the walls that I’m sure the staff have lost count; it’s great for beginners because you can really learn the technique without worrying about which grip you have to follow. There is a bouldering wall on the second floor but on the main floor you can rope climb and boulder in the same space; so always glance up before you start climbing to make sure no one is above you. The staff at Vertically Inclined are passionate about climbing and getting people hooked on the sport so, out of the three, this is probably one of the best places to learn how to climb. They have never hesitated to jump in when someone asks a question about technique. The routes change quite often here too so expect to be constantly challenged. I’d say the biggest point of improvement is the density of all of the routes: if you go during popular times you will more often than not be running into people or bumping into kids that are running around. But I’m ok with that. It’s part of the fun of the community!

Rock Jungle: cost for drop-in $19

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My mouth dropped to the floor when I first walked into the west end Rock Jungle; the facility is half Cross Fit gym and half climbing heaven. I haven’t ventured into Cross Fit so I can’t comment on their offerings, but the climbing here is amazing. They have separated areas for all the varieties of rope climbing (top rope and lead climbing) and for bouldering so never the two shall meet. Most of the routes or “problems” are vertical ones with very few traversing horizontal routes as you find at Vertically Inclined. You can climb pretty high here and luckily there are some pretty soft pads to break the fall. Since the routes are very well defined and separated all climbers have a lot of space and time to really tackle them. Each part of the wall varies in angle to make things a bit more challenging. Rock Jungle is one of those places where you can set up camp for an evening at one area with a few friends and just work on a single problem undisturbed. The planned routes here are pretty challenging; I found that even the level one routes required a bit of skill but of course you can initially practice by creating your own routes first. As a tip: the second floor was a little more appropriate to warm up on and better for beginners as some of the walls aren’t angle and the end points aren’t as high.

University of Alberta Climbing Gym: cost for drop-in $14; plan for parking or transportation: you can commute by LRT, cost for parking at the Education Car Park is $5.00 after 4:30 pm and on weekends and holidays.  Also did you know that the Wilson Climbing Centre is included in your U of A student tuition? Because it is!

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Out of the three gyms, this is the most well maintained and clean. They have a separate rope climbing wall that is insanely high and the bouldering area which has mostly vertical routes; the verticals aren’t as high as the one’s found at Rock Jungle. The bouldering routes vary in difficulty but are great for all climbing skill levels. All of the problems are clearly colour coded so it was easier to take a step back and really analyze how to approach them before starting. Each of the walls has a different bend, angle, or decline to it so on top of the challenging hand holds you also have to negotiate the surfaces themselves. The staff are pretty helpful and didn’t hesitate to hop off their chairs and give some advice.  The atmosphere is similar to Vertically Inclined in that everyone that was climbing were talking and helping each other to solve the problems. It does get pretty cramped in there since the bouldering wall area is a little narrow so be aware of your surroundings and people that may drop like a monkey out of a tree. Also be fully aware that you might have to double the price of admission since free parking at the University is next to impossible.

Climbing is a sport where the social component is pretty high; you need plenty of rest between sets, so standing around and chatting with people happens often. All of the gyms have lessons if you want to learn how to rope climb or need some pointers on technique so do your research and look for the best option for you both as a cost factor and scheduling. This is an absolutely great workout that is fit for all types of people and ages but more importantly it’s fun!

How was your experience at these climbing gyms? Leave it in the comment section below!

Also, I’m looking for stories for my column so if you have an outdoor event or sport in Edmonton that you would like covered send me an email:

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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