the climbing wall

I’ve made many mistakes over the years. Wearing underwear under my bike shorts, venturing onto a downhill ski resort with my XC skis, and using Olive Garden’s never-ending pasta bowl as a pre-race meal, for example. But few haunt me as much as the time I lived down the street from an indoor rock climbing gym for almost an entire year before stepping foot inside.

It turned out to be a super cool indoor hangout for people who love being outdoors!

The aptly named The Climbing Wall in Pittsburgh, PA is located near the Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, and Point Breeze neighborhoods, and it’s currently the only rock climbing gym in Pittsburgh.

Continue reading for stories of my experiences and adventures, plus some useful information if you want to visit!

So I finally visited The Climbing Wall…

Though I dabbled in some basic rock climbing as a child (what would technically be considered “scrambling,”) I spent most of my time in the woods climbing trees and exploring caves. My rock climbing experience was limited to movies like Cliffhanger.

Until one fateful day I found myself living in Pittsburgh, conveniently close to some climbing gym, and decided I had to check it out. And it was an excellent experience!

Finding the place.

The wall is located right on Penn Ave inside a big building called The Factory, which is also home to gymnastics, fencing, and other fun attractions. Fortunately for me, there were giant windows making it obvious which room was filled with faux-rock surfaces and people climbing on them. (You can actually stand in the hallway and watch people climb.)

So if you can get inside the building, you’re set.

Getting started.

I filled out my waiver, paid my $16 ($12 day pass and $4 shoe rental,) and received my orientation and walk-through from Andrea. She explained the rules, basic stuff I needed to know to make it a safe, enjoyable environment for everyone, and what all the colored tape was for!

Climbing on my own!

This being my first real day of indoor rock climbing ever, I was like a kid in a candy store! Rather than being faced with a monotone slab of rock, I had countless bright plastic handholds to choose from!

the climbing wall top roping area

It was tons of fun, and since each separate wall typically has a variety of difficulty levels, I was able to find a number of different climbs suited to my ability level.

And by my ability level, I mean absolute beginner. The majority of my day was spent climbing routes labeled as “VB,” where the “B” stands for beginner.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the grading scale, it goes like this: routes are rated from 0-20, with the easiest being 0 and the toughest routes the pros are climbing being about 16. So, I was climbing routes that weren’t even worthy of being ranked as a zero!

I did salvage my ego by being able to complete some of the V0 climbs! I only did a couple of them, and they took me multiple tries (even after watching other people complete them so I knew what to do,) but I did it.

And I kept going back to do it some more! Before I knew it, I was doing the V1 climbs!

After a few visits, I ended up buying a membership! I was hooked!

Getting There (Maps and Directions)

Are you ready to try it for yourself? Here’s what you need to know.

Address:

The Climbing Wall
7501 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15208

Parking

There’s a good size parking lot available, but it will fill quickly at peak hours. If you don’t get a spot, there’s free street parking around back on Meade Street.

Website

www.TheClimbingWall.net

Prices, Memberships, and Specials

What’s it going to cost to climb here?

Prices

A day pass to The Climbing Wall is $12. If you need to rent equipment, it’s a few dollars more.

It’s slightly more expensive than pickup hockey at the nearest ice rink ($10,) but less than it costs for a one-hour session at an indoor trampoline park ($14.) It’s also less expensive than climbing gyms I’ve been to in other cities ($15-25.)

You can save a lot of money if you get a membership.

the climbing wall monthly special

Memberships

You can buy a 1-month membership, 3-month membership, 6-month membership, or a year membership. If you plan to climb once per week or more, you’ll want to invest in a membership.

What’s really cool is that you can “stack” memberships. So, say you have a few months left on your existing membership, and they decide to run a special promotion on memberships. If you purchase another membership, they’ll add it onto your existing membership.

Even better, you can put your membership “on hold” as you see fit. So if you’re injured or on vacation for a month, just e-mail them to put your membership on hold, and reactivate it later when you’re ready to climb again.

Specials

You can really get some great deals if you take advantage of their specials.

They seem to run a special membership deal each month where one of the membership packages is on sale. I think my first membership was a 3-month membership deal for $135 (rather than the regular $150.)

Watch their website and Facebook page to see what the current deal is.

ladies night at the climbing wall

They have also offered deals through Groupon in the past – see www.groupon.com – but don’t hold your breath waiting for a new one.

The best deal by far is Ladies Night, which is every Wednesday. It’s half price for ladies… and for guys in sports bras.

So, it’s only $6. If you climb exclusively on Wednesdays and use the discount, that’s only $24-30 for the month! You can’t beat that!

And guys, you can probably convince someone to loan you an old sports bra, rather than buying one (unless you want your own.)

Also, enter the monthly drawings for your chance to win a prize (something like a Burgatory gift card, a free month of membership, etc..) Just write your name and email address on your wristband and put it in the little recycle bin beside the front desk when you’re done climbing for the day.

What You Get at The Climbing Wall

Wondering about the walls? The restrooms? It’s all covered here.

Basic Amenities

This gym is focused on rock climbing, so don’t expect something like LA Fitness. There are no locker rooms or showers.

There is a small changing room, and the men’s and women’s restrooms are in the hallway right outside. There’s a water fountain out there, too, and it always has cold water.

If you want to chill for a bit, there are two couches and a coffee table.

the climbing wall

There are quite a few cubbies along the wall for you to keep your stuff in (street clothes, water bottle, etc.) while you climb.

There are some fans, and air conditioning was just installed during the summer of 2014.

You can rent climbing shoes (the Five Ten Rogue,) chalk, helmets, harnesses, and belay devices.

Finally, don’t forget to check out the bulletin board next to the door. There are some good classified ads posted on it.

Types of Climbing

There are two separate rooms – the top-roping and lead climbing area, and the bouldering area.

Bouldering Area

Bouldering is where you climb short walls without ropes. There’s a wide variety of stuff in here. There’s a slab wall, vertical walls, overhanging walls, a cave, a mini-roof, aretes, and other neat features.

Here are some examples:

the climbing wall mini roof

the climbing wall overhanging wall

the climbing wall crack climbs

the climbing wall castle and tunnel

the climbing wall barrel bulge

There’s a lot to climb and a lot of space to move around.

Top-roping Area

the climbing wall top roping area

This is in a separate room down the hall, and it’s sort of two long, narrow rooms joined together.

It doesn’t have the variety the bouldering area does, but it has some overhangs, features, and a lead roof that’s pretty darn tall.

Anchors are placed on the floor to keep belayers safe.

You have to pass a test or take a class to be able to use this area. It’s a safety precaution – when climbing on a rope, someone is literally putting their life in your hands.

They provide all the ropes, and you can rent a harness, ATC belay device, and carabiners if you don’t have your own.

As of fall 2014, they have a TrueBlue AutoBelay in the top-roping area. This device is attached to the top of a wall and does exactly what it says – it belays for you automatically. So, if you know how to climb but don’t have a partner to belay you, you can clip into this and start climbing immediately.

Wall and Hold Quality

Everything seems to be good, but not excellent.

The walls are essentially smooth plywood at this point, though they may have been textured at one point in time. There are still some areas with texture, and there are also areas with neat ridges that imitate real rock features. The wood is in good shape, and that’s what really matters.

the climbing wall ratings

I’ve been to gyms that have textured concrete walls, and the grip is even better than real rock, so it’s an awesome experience. It almost makes it so you don’t need foot holds though, which isn’t realistic. I’ve also been to gyms where the walls are slippery like a dance floor!

So I’m perfectly content with smooth, but not slippery, plywood.

In general, the holds are good, and some are brand new. Some are getting “polished” though. What I like most is the variety of holds throughout the gym. There are jugs, slopers, crimps, pockets, and rails in all sizes. Plus some stuff I don’t know what you’d call it!

Floors and Mats

My favorite part of the entire gym is the floor. The entire thing is springy, like a gymnastics floor. Even if you fall where there’s no mat, it’s a lot softer landing than a solid floor would be.

The mats are awesome, too. They are Tiffin mats, which I think are gymnastics mats.

Some gyms use layers of crash pads, which are alright, but not my ideal landing surface. See, I think of crash pads as a last resort – a better alternative than landing on hard, pointy rocks outside. Where as these mats are meant to be fallen on over and over.

It really improves my confidence when climbing to know there’s a good padding system beneath me!

Training Tools

A hang board and campus rungs are available.

These are useful for experienced climbers looking to improve their hand and finger strength.

You can also do pull-ups and hanging leg raises for an excellent core workout.

The Crowd

Climbing is a sport for all ages, all genders, and all ability levels. Expect to see a mix of guys and girls of all ages, but remember that since this is close to Pitt and CMU, college students will be the majority.

The gym gets busiest at around 6-8pm on weekdays, and fairly busy on Saturday afternoons around 3-6pm.

If you want to avoid the crowds, try going before 5pm on a weekday. At 2pm, like in the picture below, you might have the place to yourself. Or, stay late and climb from 9-11pm.

the climbing wall is not crowded

Crowds can be good, though. It gives you a chance to learn from other climbers.

The crowds are always supportive – you can learn by watching others, and they’ll give you tips.

 

If you’re in Pittsburgh and want to do some rock climbing, The Climbing Wall is awesome. It’s also the only climbing gym in Pittsburgh right now!

 

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2 Comments
  1. Good review. How is the route setting?

    • @Kathryn

      I like the setting. They have multiple setters (as you can see by the initials on the tape), with each having their own signature style. And with all the different wall features, they can incorporate a wide variety of moves and lines. The creativity isn’t quite on par with the Red Barn climbing gym up in Rochester NY, but there’s some cool stuff. Like right now there’s a V6 with a bat hang or heel hook start.

      As far as difficulty, this leans toward the beginner and intermediate routes. There are typically a lot of V0-V3 routes, a fair amount of V4-V5, and then maybe a handful above that. There’s a V9 right now but that’s a rare sight.

      If you mean frequency, that’s usually good, too. They do a rotation where they re-set one area at a time, so it’s always staggered. I’d say you can expect any given route to stay up for a couple months.

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