SCARPA athlete and professional climber and coach, Alli Rainey, recently ventured off the beaten path to investigate rumors of an impressive bouldering wall at a wellness center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Not only did Alli confirm the rumor, she and her husband Kevin spent several days working with the facility to update the walls and plant a seed to grow a climbing community in this small town.
Tucked in the back of a wellness center in Thermopolis, Wyoming, lies a relatively untapped resource – a cool bouldering wall, complete with plenty of holds, a variety of angles, textured surfaces, and a modern flooring system plus plenty of extra draggable mats. I’ve known for a while that there was a climbing wall at this recreation facility, but I’d never heard much about it. I had no reason to check it out until Kevin and I traveled to the Gottsche Wellness Center for fitness classes this winter.
I was shocked when I walked around the corner and saw the wall for the first time. Let’s face it, when you hear that there’s a bouldering wall at a recreation center, more often than not, it turns out to be disappointing – an ill-conceived nod at the idea of climbing for fitness. Constructed or selected (or both) by someone who knows nothing about bouldering whatsoever. Well this is not the case at Gottsche – not in the least. Here we found a well-designed, nicely constructed modern bouldering wall. It’s a place that we’d definitely train at ourselves if we didn’t have our own training facility at home.
What was even more shocking to our climbers’ sensibilities was the fact that no one appeared to be showing this wall any love. When encountering a facility for climbing like this one, it’s sort of expected that there will be an after-school crowd of kids or an after-work adult crowd. But on every occasion we were there, not a soul climbed. For us, both longtime climbers, to witness such a resource being so underutilized borders on blasphemy.
After thinking about what could be done to remedy this situation, I put in a call to the center’s Wellness Director to set up a meeting. During the meeting we found out that it wasn’t for lack of interest in the wall, but more a result that nobody working there really knew much about climbing. For this reason, they were most welcoming of our presence to help spread the word – great news for us! We also learned that Gottsche even has a full line of climbing shoes at the front desk, which makes it easy for anyone to get started with no investment beyond a gym membership or the drop-in fee ($5).
The week after the meeting, we were setting all-new problems to try to breathe new life into the climbing wall. We spent six hours putting up four different circuits of six problems for people to sample, with each circuit color-coded and each color indicating a different level of difficulty. I wrote up sheets explaining the basic rules behind indoor bouldering. We wanted to show climbing can be an activity appropriate for all ages, for both fitness and fun.
The following Tuesday, we held an open house so the community could come in, ask questions, and try climbing out. For us, sharing our longtime love of climbing with total newcomers is always fun. Explaining the goal of solving a puzzle through movement, and then being able to watch them attempt to unlock the moves is very rewarding. It reminds us of the core appeal of climbing – pushing one’s own limits. That core experience is always the same, regardless of the difficulty, or ability of the person. It’s living wholly in the moment as an integrated being; mastering mind, and body to rise to meet the challenge at hand. It made us smile and laugh just to see this happening. If the wall had feelings, I’m sure it would’ve felt loved too.
Everyone who attended was just so enthusiastic, willing to try something new. It felt like a celebration of playful human movement. We particularly enjoyed watching one young woman get so involved – her first time climbing ever – that even after ripping two flappers on her fingers (“What can I do about this?” she asked, and Kevin obligingly provided climbing tape and a quick lesson in trimming/taping flappers), she continued to climb to exhaustion. She told me, “That yellow problem over there? I’ll have to come back for that one next time.”