Many people worldwide first learned about sport climbing by watching the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year. In this exciting sport, athletes hang by their fingertips and sometimes leap up and out to catch another handhold, hopefully without falling off.
At the Games, three elements were featured: bouldering, lead climbing and speed climbing. Unusual is that the results of all three disciplines were combined; the person with the highest combined score on all three won. Many in the climbing world criticized the decision to combine all of them as the method of scoring each is quite different.
The person who can get to the top the fastest wins in speed climbing. In lead climbing, the athletes try to get as high as possible within a set time while being belayed from below. Bouldering is about conquering as many short, challenging routes as possible during a set time. All these activities take place on a climbing wall covered with various elements adjusted to create a wide array of routes of differing abilities.
In the Adirondacks, the general public is more familiar with rock climbing and ice climbing, especially as significant sites are visible in such locales as Chapel Pond in Keene, the Cascade Lakes, Wilmington Notch, and Poke-O-Moonshine between Lewis and Keeseville.
Sport climbing began outdoors at the Verdon Gorge in France in 1976 and Smith Rock in Oregon in the early 1980s. In the U.S., the sport moved indoors in 1987 with the establishment of the first climbing gym in America, Vertical World in Seattle. Climbing gyms feature vertical multiplex walls with holes drilled into them where different shaped and sized grips can be affixed, with some having belay attachments at the top. The walls often have sections that lean outward, creating gravity-defying challenges for the climbers, often present on natural rock walls or large boulders.
High Peaks Cyclery has an indoor bouldering wall, but until recently, the Crux in Willsboro and Rocksport in Queensbury were the only two nearby locales where one could also find a lead wall. That changed recently when the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg — operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority — opened its new indoor sport climbing facility. The wall is highly visible, located right off the lobby, and can be viewed from the second floor.
Though it took some time in coming, the climbing wall is already very active, especially on weekday afternoons when groups of school kids come out to try out the new sport. I’m not sure about you, but for many of my contemporaries growing up, pine trees were a natural jungle gym to climb, as was getting up on a garage or barn roof. This is to say, the kids at the ORDA climbing wall took to it like a band of spider monkeys out for an afternoon swing through the trees. My contemporaries and I were inspired by Tarzan movies; for today’s kids, it’s Spiderman and the film “Free Solo.”
What did kids have to say about the new experience? The most common refrain was “awesome.”
Building a climbing wall wasn’t in …….