It doesn't look all that imposing from the outside, but step inside the doors of Bend Rock Gym and the specter of its 50-foot walls plays large. At a size of 20,000-square-feet, and with one of the highest number of auto belay routes on the West coast, BRG has it goin' on. But with nearby Smith Rock being the birthplace of American sport climbing, it's no wonder that Bend would have a rock gym with chops like these.
That's all great for the avid climber—but what about noobs like us? How would we fare amid the looming terror of 50-foot walls? With spring approaching and our upper bodies sorely out of shape from a season of slope-riding, we were willing to give it a try.
In addition to the bouldering walls, the auto belay walls (which allow newbies and loners alike to climb high without a partner) and the other plentiful climbing terrain, the gym boasts a fitness center with weights and cardio equipment, yoga and meditation classes, and more. In terms of indoor climbing (or even just getting in shape surrounded by other good-looking people), it's something of an indoor climbing mecca.
Whether us (highly attractive) amateurs really needed a true climbing mecca, or just a place to mess around, this is our take.
Magdalena Bokowa, 20-something
I hang out with a lot, and I mean, a lot of really good climbers: The ones who live in their Astros, take trips to mythical-sounding places and live frugally (i.e occasionally dumpster-dive) in order to chase that next high. So I've always wanted to:
Finally understand their excitement over multi-pitches
Experience that "mind-body-soul" connection they rave on about ("it's just totally intense zen, man") and,
Go over to an unsuspecting dude and FINALLY say, "Hey, nice rack."
Plus, it's cool that a day "climbing" can equate to mostly sitting, munching on a half-eaten wrap while watching other people climb and yelling inspiring words of encouragement. Sounds just like my kind of sport.
But my climbing shoes had been collecting dust since my forays into bouldering had been dismal, to say the least. I'd get on the wall, worry about "falling correctly" and not-so-covertly freak out. It'd leave me cranky and embarrassed while I'd whine, wimp out and blame things like "the rock's too hard/soft/jagged/scary/hot/full-of-bad-energy." Turns out, all you need to turn that frown upside down is a harness. And a can-do attitude. And a soft-spoken, metaphor-using, climbing pro who just so happens to be the gym's director of operations. Or any other super positive friend who puts you at ease and high fives you all the time... even when you wimp out halfway up the wall.
(Not-so) Pro-Tip: Skip the bouldering, grab a harness and try the auto-belay wall where you can take your time honing your skills without worrying about crashing. You don't even need a partner!
Nicole Vulcan, almost 40-something
As a former resident of the beautiful (and granite-rich, and sacred) Black Hills, this wasn't my first foray into climbing, indoors or out. Still, it's the first time I've done it in a few years—and apparently, my body has been counting those years like an overzealous accountant. Our guide, Director of Operations Rich Bruner, walked us through the Gym Intro Class—the offering meant for climbing rookies such as us—with patience and humor, explaining the various rating systems for bouldering versus rope climbing so we'd know where to start on the auto belay. That's one big benefit of learning this sport in an indoor setting: You can follow color-coded routes (or in bouldering, "problems") to the top, letting you stay within your comfort zone.
After a few rounds on the auto belay, I was ready for the actual partner belay experience. That went over well too, so I ended the afternoon on the bouldering walls. For noobs like us, "bouldering" means climbing without ropes, typically on shorter walls of 15 feet or less.
And that, readers, is where things kinda fell apart. Apparently, when you're nearing 40, you can't simply jump from a height of 12 feet to dismount a bouldering problem—and you certainly can't try to be funny and do it jauntily to amuse your friends. Perhaps you tweak an elbow on the landing. Perhaps your teeth clack together and give you a neck ache the rest of the week. I have to stress though that none of this was because of the facility or the training. Nope. It was because 40.
Anna Bokowa, a young 50-something (the closest we could get to 60-ish for this article...)
When my daughter told me what we were going to do after I had just spent the whole day traveling from Canada to see her (two planes, a four-hour drive AND we almost died crossing Third Street before getting to her house!), I thought "What now? Are you crazy?" She always does these kinds of things to me. "You're going scuba diving," was the last great idea. "It'll be safe," she said, and then I got attacked by a sea snake. So, yes I was nervous, knowing her and her ideas, but I'm Polish so we're built strong, and if your crazy daughter challenges you, you have to do it.
I liked it. We could do it all together. It didn't matter how far I went or that my son could go all the way to the top, we got to spend the afternoon together as a family and I would do it again. Hey, maybe I'll be a rock climber in my older age, ha-ha. Imagine that.
Bend Rock Gym
1181 SE Centennial Ct., Bend
Mon-Fri 7am-10pm; Sat-Sun 10am-8pm
Look for the 20/40/60 feature the third week of each month, featuring three generations trying out a new activity in Central Oregon.