Climbing up the walls on Argyle
Posted April 12, 2022 at 9:29 am by Jeff Arnim
Tucked in a back corner of the gym on Argyle Avenue, inside what was originally a racquetball court, sits one the Island’s most unique and challenging fitness options. Climb San Juan, started by Pat McAvoy last June, is the community’s only climbing gym.
The walls that rise above the thickly padded floor have the look of a large-scale modern art installation, where hundreds of brightly colored climbing holds – each with their own unique shape – protrude from textured panels of red and tan and gray and combine to create a complex vertical geometry 20 feet in the air.
It was a labor of love – and a test of patience – for the first-time entrepreneur with a background in expedition guiding to take the gym from dream to reality.
“It had been on the island wish-list for a few years,” Pat explains. “Climbing is a popular sport in Washington, both indoor and outdoor, so it makes sense that a sleepy, outdoor-focused town could use a little spark like this, especially in the winter. But for a long time, it seemed like pie in the sky. Finding the location took years.”
Once Pat found the right space, however, things fell into place quickly. He built the walls, designed the initial set of routes, and installed them in just three months. Throughout the process, safety was a central focus.
“You’re putting thick panels on wooden framing that have to hold multiple human bodies at once,” Pat says. “You also have to keep in mind the falling radius of anyone on the wall, then put that into perspective while designing.”
When a climber falls, the crash pads that cover every inch of floor below the walls have been engineered to prevent injury. To a first-timer they might seem overly hard, but according to Pat the stiffness is intentional. “The foam is very high quality and created exactly for the purpose of catching people who are falling,” he says “The pads may feel a bit firm, but being too soft can actually lead to more injuries.”
A few of the wall sections at Climb San Juan also offer ropes as an additional safety measure, an option which tends to be popular with younger climbers and Islanders worried about falling. It’s that fear – and the concern about looking foolish in front of others as a beginner – that tend to be the biggest barriers for new climbers.
“The hardest part is brushing away the mentality of being a novice, and knowing that people will probably watch you struggle and fail in the gym,” Pat explains. “Everyone goes through it – it’s part of rock climbing – so it’s important to not let that hold you back. Indoor bouldering is an exceptionally easy sport to get started on because the gear needed is minimal, it’s weather independent, and you can go by yourself or with a friend.”
The reward for overcoming the initial barriers is the development of a skill that allows climbers to regularly challenge both body and mind. Climb San Juan’s routes range from easy to difficult, and they’re never the same for long. Changing the placement of the climbing holds – a process called route setting – takes place roughly once a month.
Most of the gym’s hours are set aside for individuals and small groups to climb on their own, but a collection of scheduled classes adds a structured, social element as well. Currently Pat offers a couple of introductory climbing classes, in addition to a youth class for kids, a ladies’ night, and route setting events. He also offers a range of membership options, starting as low as $45 per month.
If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t be shy – head on down and give it a try. Climb San Juan is open to the general public – not just San Juan Island Fitness members – from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. It’s located inside the San Juan Island Fitness building at 327 Argyle Avenue.
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Categories: Around Here