Climbing up the walls on Argyle

Posted April 12, 2022 at 9:29 am by

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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