Sport Rock

If you're moving to Boulder your going to get fantastic climbing: be it outdoors, with Boulder Canyon, the Flatirons/front range, and Eldo; or indoors, with Movement, the Spot, and the BRC. If you're moving from boulder, your not.

I'm moving from Boulder. So naturally, the first thing I want to check out is the local gyms and local crags. There are two different gyms in DC: SportRock in Alexandria and Earth Treks in Rockport, Maryland. If these websites don't impress you, it's for a reason: they're not Boulder gyms.

I've always been curious about other climbing gyms because an incendiary Colorado Daily staff writer trashed St. Louis/east coast gyms, and almost started a riot on Mountain Project. If you want to see an online climbing flame war, skim/read the comments. 

So, what's good about a climbing gym in DC?

(1) It's a climbing gym in DC. It's a gym, that's dedicated to *climbing* in DC. Yes, read that again. It's true. It's a climbing gym in DC.

(2) It's got sport climbing, lead climbing, and bouldering. It's like a cross between a wide version of the Spot's sport climbing area and ... well, a wider version of Movement's bouldering area. Similar to a vertically challenged version of the BRC before they added their new area.

Which leads me to the Cons.

(1) The place is small. The warehouse is the size of Movement--if Movement was only 2 stories. There are loads of people there, which makes the place feel even more cramped.

(2) They don't have sub-grades. As in you won't find a 5.10a. Or a 5.11a. Or a 5.10c. Or even a 5.10d. You'll find a 5.10+ and a 5.10-. And yes they'll have 5.11-'s and 5.11+'s. But no 5.11a,b,c,d,e... you get the point.

(3) Their rental gear is absolutely terrible. My first few climbing forays were at the local gym, where I had to rent gear. I had a blast. At Sportrock, I had to rent gear, and I absolutely hated it. I won't do it again. And I'm not sure I would _ever_ take somebody there for their first time because their gear is terrible. The harnesses don't have a waist band: they are only two leg loops with a a long ribbon that you use to tie around your waist twice. It's not that far from creating a rope harness manually. The resulting harness is really uncomfortable and awkward. If I took anybody there, I'm not sure they would understand how much fun climbing actually is because their gear would kill the experience. It's not a safe learning environment for beginners anymore; on the contrary, it's two hours of testicular torture.

(4) The climbing is too easy. 1/2 of the gym seemed to be devoted to routes easier than 5.9's. Maybe there's a little hyperbole in that statement, but there's not much. And if you're not a beginner, it means you can ignore half of the gym. Let's see how you feel paying for that.

(5) This one's purely aesthetic: the gym just felt old. Movement feels new, the Spot's got a cool vibe to it (and lots of wall variety), and the BRC's well lit and hip. Sportrock? Gray, drab, dark and dull. The music was cool, but it barely loud enough to hear. And, all of their walls are made of the same dark blackish gray plastic, which seem to suck the life out of the building. This one's completely biased, but I feel like having a well lit, fun, climbing area does make the entire experience a lot more enjoyable.

(6) During my belay test, I felt like Jenn's article was almost spot on. I felt insulted that I couldn't use a figure 9 (I had to use a fisherman's instead). And I knew I left myself too large of a waist loop, but talking condescendingly to me because such a large waist loop might have injured a child under the age of 12 if they had taken a big fall (because they would have fallen *that* much farther) seems really unnecessary. Oh--and because the gym doesn't loop around the top twice, I've got to use two hands to "slowly" lower somebody. It's things like these that suck the fun out of climbing and kill me on the inside.

So, as you're all dying to know: what did I think of SportRock? Well, to be honest, it's climbing ... in DC. And if you come to DC expecting world class climbing (as you would expect in Boulder), the joke's on you. Er, I guess, me.

I get their emphasis of safety/liability, it just feels like I'm a little kid climbing with my parents. I get that they don't have large Movement-like lead-walls overhangs, I just feel like they could do better. And I don't get why their harnesses suck, the 80s were 30 years ago. I don't get why they don't double their top ropes, it take no extra effort.

Even though this review sounds a little scathing, it's a climbing gym in DC. I can't complain. It's better than nothing, especially if you're a Boulder climber. I might even get a membership there. But first--a trip to Earth Treks (expect another post/review). It's even farther away than SportRock, but it's DC. You survive. Somehow.


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