Story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri
My son is a rock climber; not at all the sport I had envisioned for him as he was growing up. But it’s the reason I found myself at The Ledge climbing gym, watching climbers grip hand holds, cling with their fingertips, snake their foot around a tiny ledge, dangle with one arm, and then descend back down – safely – to the ground. It was pretty darn impressive.
The Ledge is one entity of the Pacific Health Club in Liverpool. This 5,000-square-foot indoor climbing gym has multiple walls of varying heights geared toward different styles of climbing. Each wall has colorful hand holds that link together to form routes that zigzag up the wall. These artificial climbing walls allow rock climbers to train year-round for different types of rock climbing, of which the most common are top roping and bouldering. “Top roping” is the method of ascending up the rock face, and traditionally involves two people – the climber and the belayer, who controls the tension on the rope attached to the climber. “Bouldering” is performed without the use of rope or harnesses, is generally less than 15 feet, and often uses lateral movement in a path across a rock to solve a specific challenge. An indoor climbing gym is ideal for those interested in the sport. And it’s an all-body workout right down to the fingertips. Strength training, endurance, balance and coordination will all improve as a climber’s skills improve. Even the mind benefits from the problem-solving used when approaching a challenging route.
The rules are simple
Get to the top. Use all body parts. Increase your strength along the way. Learn the proper finger holds. Hang on. Descend safely to the ground.
Membership in The Ledge has grown steadily since its opening in September 2013, and now numbers more than 300 climbers. There are also day passes available for those who want to give it a try. It’s a growing sport and outdoor climbing areas are continually being developed. For Finger Lakes residents, it’s usually a drive to reach rock-climbing areas in this region as the shale in this area easily breaks. When the outdoors beckons, it’s a car ride to maybe the Adirondacks or “The Gunks” in New Paltz, the premier rock-climbing area in New York State. But for year-round training close to home, the indoor gym is the perfect solution.
Safety is key, and I checked out all the state-of-the-art safety features. First, thick crash pads surround the walls. I wasn’t sure I liked the name “crash” in reference to the foot-high pads that line every inch of the floor, but they certainly provide a soft landing for the climbers. There are 12 auto-belays available, used to control the descent of the climber instead of requiring another person. The moment force is applied to the belay, it automatically starts working, lowering the climber gently to the floor. There’s a camaraderie among the climbers, as those on the floor watch and encourage the climbers on the walls, all of them part of a close-knit climbing community.
The walls are not your typical room walls. With ledges and curves, bends and angles, they are built to mimic the various patterns in the outdoors. Jon Barnes, manager of The Ledge, pointed to the colorful taping system on the walls. “Each specific color is a path for the climber to follow, with varying difficulties depending on the skills of the climber,” he explained. Paths are changed weekly on “Bouldering Tuesdays” to continually present new challenges for the climbers to tackle.
Jugs, Slopers, Pinches and Pockets
Hand and foot holds are specifically designed for varying skill levels. “Jugs” are large holds; fairly easy to grip with the hand. They are often found on beginner routes. “Slopers” have a smooth surface and are gripped with the palm in an open-hand position. “Pinches” must be pinched between the thumb and other fingers. “Pockets” are small openings for the fingers, and “crimps” are for the tips of the fingers. Both require finger strength and are for more advanced climbers.
Foot holds usually have just enough surface for the toe of the shoe. Footwork is just as important as hand strength. Heel hooks and toe hooks are critical to grab hold and pull the climber up the wall.
There is a minimal amount of equipment used for climbing. Proper climbing shoes are key, and hand chalk is used in abundance.
A three-week course, Climbing 101, is offered to new climbers. “We want them to get comfortable with the wall and the various rock-climbing holds,” Jon says. Instructors teach beginners how to use the harness and the carabiner that attaches to the rope. They explain the auto-belay, and how to safely come down from a climb. “But we also have a great climbing community, and the experienced climbers are always willing to help the newer folks.”
The indoor training prepares the climbers for the outdoor climbs. I asked my son Jared how he approached his outdoor climbs. “The same safety precautions we use in the gym, we apply to our outdoor climbs. We always climb with a partner and are careful spotters for each other. We bring our crash pads with us for safe landings, and use the landing techniques we’ve practiced. We’ve built our strength indoors to be able to reach an outdoor challenge. We’re
So what’s next?
“We hope to eventually hold climbing competitions,” says The Ledge Manager Jon Barnes. But for now they will continue to build their climbing community, focus on safety, instruct those new to the sport, and challenge the experienced climbers. And for all the climbers out there, Rock On!
Other climbing gyms
The Lindseth Climbing Gym
554 Campus Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14853
Red Barn Climbing
1 Lomb Memorial Dr.
Rochester, NY 14623
Rock Ventures Climbing Gym
1044 University Ave.
Rochester, NY 14607