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The Next-Generation Climbing Gym

Climbing gyms are evolving from dimly lit warehouses stacked with plywood to full-service fitness centers with the look and feel of outdoor crags.

What was so different here from the gyms I had dubiously visited during the previous two decades? Start with the light. Most climbing gyms are built in derelict warehouses, which didn’t waste much architectural effort on windows. No matter how cheery the staff in such a place, it’s hard to cut the Stygian gloom of an old red-brick cavern designed to stack auto parts or sacks of fertilizer up to the high ceiling. CRG, on the other hand, built its gym from the ground up. Instead of a boxy square, the building forms an irregular pentagon with a slightly peaked roof. The windows on all five walls are huge, and even in murky December, sunlight floods the place, reminding you that rock climbing, after all, was invented in the outdoors.

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Liberated to shape their structure as they pleased, the CRG designers festooned the interior with freestanding pillars, angles and corners, slabs and overhangs, so that the whole complex has the feel of an outdoor crag, with all its geologic twists and turns. The surfaces of the walls themselves are made of concrete, molded and speckle painted to mimic the rough, wrinkled texture of real rock. (Other gyms go cheapo with plywood.) With 142 separate “stations” from which to hang ropes, CRG never suffers, no matter how thronged, from the overcrowding that often forces indoor climbers to wait in line for their favorite routes. Old-style gyms tended to cater to the hardcore, tossing in a token 5.6 or 5.7 route to appease the novices. But while its 50-foot-high overhanging lead wall, with lines up to 5.14 in difficulty, could challenge an Alex Honnold, CRG Watertown remains thoroughly beginner-friendly. An entire 30-foot-high pillar upstairs is devoted to no fewer than 16 easy routes, rated at 5.5 or 5.6.

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