The Boulder and the Beautiful

Gary Lester

So, I meet this guy who’s talking about “bouldering.” I knew it’s an upscale version of the rock climbing we all did as kids. It’s a lot more technical and accomplished climbers do amazing things on vertical and even over-hanging rocks. But this guy was talking about “indoor bouldering.”

Then he said he had a version of this activity housed in his garage and invited me to check it out. I followed the instructions to find the place but drove back and forth past it. There didn’t seem to be a building big enough to house such a facility. I finally found it the place and, sure enough, it was in a regular-sized two- car garage. It was just a regular-sized garage with a seven to the eight-foot ceiling! How challenging could such a set-up be?

My host was moving his kids’ bikes and some other things out of the way and sure enough, there were climbing walls on two sides of the garage. There were hundreds of weirdly-shaped “holds” attached all over the walls and the ceiling. There were various colored ribbons pinned to the holds. I learned that “holds” was the generic term for handholds and footholds and that the ribbons defined “problems,” paths you could attempt to follow.

I was given a pair of tight-fitting, rubber-soled shoes and shown a few of the basic techniques of posture necessary to move from hold to hold along the problem paths. I used my big toe against the lower holds and reached here and there to find solid handholds. I scrambled clumsily along one wall a foot or so off the ground and ran out of wind, strength, and handholds. It was a significant workout.

As I tried the traverse a couple more times, more people showed up. A couple of young guys and some young women. They showed up and started in on the problems. I was amazed at their expertise and agility.

But there was much more going on than just climbing around. These folks were getting a real workout. They were challenging themselves and each other. They were coaching and encouraging each other. There was festive hooting and hollering when someone completed a complicated problem. It was fascinating to watch. Healthy exercise, gentle competition, and tremendous fun. I was welcomed, encouraged, and caught up in instant camaraderie. Some of the most valuable traits and assets we can share with each other emerged from this garage and a bunch of people engaged in this “ON the wall” activity. It was beautiful.

This was a “bucket list” thing for me. You know, one of those things we want to do before we “kick it.” But that few minutes of novice activity got me hooked. I am going to do this again.

My host for this super interesting and entertaining evening was Dana Harrington. He’s a serious boulder guy both inside and outside and has given serious study to designing the inside version. Note that a person might have to find acres of outside boulders to get the level of activity that can be had at an indoor facility….

Dana wants to put an expanded version of his facility in the old Loranger building on Clark St.

I’m excited about this possibility. Allegheny Outfitters is moving into the same building and Bent Run Brewery has its eyes on adjoining space too. Think about it, after decades of no commercial or recreational activity, Warren’s waterfront may come to life! (Is there any other city or town in the country that doesn’t take advantage of such space and opportunity?)

I hope all the interested parties; neighbors, the city, the county, the state, and even the Feds do everything possible to help this beautiful idea become a reality.

Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.


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