LYNNWOOD — With granite crags and huge roadside boulders, Snohomish County is a rock climber’s paradise, but as the winter closes in, the Cascades can be awfully wet and slippery this time of year. Luckily for aspiring climbers, indoor climbing offers a safe — and dry — space to explore the sport before tackling the mountain.
Indoor climbing may be safer than outdoor climbing, but climbing is inherently dangerous. Gyms lessen the risk by providing proper safety equipment and educating climbers on the dangers. Most gyms require clients to sign a waiver or possess specific certifications before they can participate.
Types of climbing
If you’re not ready to be suspended in the air by the seat of your pants, bouldering is a form of climbing that is done relatively low to the ground without ropes or harnesses. Falls are taken on crash pads.
“Anyone can start doing it,” said Emily Taylor, a front desk worker at Vertical World North in Lynnwood. “You don’t need training, so for people that are looking to start out, bouldering is a good way to get introduced into climbing.”
Bouldering is the most approachable climbing style, but the sport is still very physical. To avoid burnout and get the full value out of bouldering, Vertical World North’s general manager KJ Maxwell recommends new climbers take five minute breaks between attempts.
Top roping requires two people, a climber and a belayer. A rope extends from an anchor at the top of the climb and is fed through both of their harnesses. Belayers take up the rope’s slack as the climber ascends and pulls it tight to catch the climber’s fall.
Climbing gyms require the belayer to be belay certified, but the climber does not necessarily need prior experience with rope climbing. Many gyms have auto-belay devices, which omit the need for a human belayer.
Lead climbing is when a climber clips their rope to protection points in the wall as they ascend their climb. Most gyms recommend climbers become familiar with top roping before lead climbing.
The path of a climb is called a route or problem for bouldering, often graded based on difficulty. Boulder problems are graded from 0-11+ using the V or Vermin Scale. Top rope and lead routes are typically rated using the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), which marks difficulty by a series of decimal-point grades.
The larger the number, the more difficult the climb. Still, rock climbing grades are subjective. Physical differences can play a big role in how difficult a climb feels. Someone with smaller hands and feet may be able to scale a project with small crimpy holds, while a person with long legs might have to jump to reach a hold.
Taylor prefers lead because of her climbing style.
“Bouldering would be more power and strength, versus lead which is more technique and endurance,” Taylor said. “Different body types, different strengths.”
Longer climbing styles allow climbers to enter a “flow state,” a rhythm that Vertical World North’s head route setter Matt Hussin compares to dancing. Navigating the wall isn’t just a physical act, but a mental one.
“In a lot of other sports to improve you need to get physically better, but so much of climbing is mental acuity,” Hussin said. “A lot of people just have to get smarter to get better, they don’t actually have to get stronger.”
This harmony of body and mind is what attracts so many to the sport.
What should you bring to the climbing gym?
Indoor boulderers only need a chalk bag and climbing shoes. Chalk is used to absorb hand sweat and increase friction, which improves the climber’s grip on holds. Climbing shoes should fit fairly tight. The climber’s toes should have a slight curl when they’re worn. Along with shoes and chalk, top ropers need a harness and a partner with a belay device, unless they plan on using an auto-belay.
If you want to try before you buy, Vertical World North rents shoes for $7 and harnesses for $5.
Other than the lack of air conditioning at most climbing gyms, indoor climbers don’t need to dress to protect themselves from the elements, but it can be helpful to wear clothing that gives a full range of motion.
Where can you climb in Snohomish County?
Vertical World opened America’s first rock gym in Seattle in 1987 and then expanded west to Redmond and north to Snohomish County.
Initially located in Everett on 2820 Rucker Ave, Vertical World North moved to Lynnwood in 2019. The gym’s current facility at 12300 Beverly Park Road was built from the ground up and offers bouldering, top rope, lead, and auto-belay climbing.
“A lot of climbing gyms are built inside of warehouses or existing buildings,” Taylor said. “We put up the building so we could make the walls as tall as we wanted.”
Day passes are $10 for youth ages three to five, $15 for youth six to 15, and $23 for everyone else.
Summit Everett took over the gym’s former location seven years ago, but closed their doors Nov. 30 The climbing plans to relocate a few blocks away at 2900 Grand Ave. The new 8,500-square-foot facility is expected to open sometime next year and will give the gym more space to grow.
“Our main goal is to keep climbing here in Everett,” manager Daniel Coltrane said.
At Summit Everett’s former location, day passes were $18 for youth up to age 13 and $21 for everyone else.
In Shoreline, Uplift Climbing is a bouldering gym that does not offer rope climbing. Day passes are $22 or $15 for youth and students with valid IDs.
The Mountaineers is a primarily climbing and hiking focused alpine club based in Washington that hosts outdoor activities for a wide range of skill levels.
Mountain Project is a website that helps climbers around the world find routes, guides and advice for climbing.
Washington Climbers Coalition is a nonprofit that advocates for climbers, works with land managers to maintain crags and improves climbing experience and safety.