Wall lures outdoor-lovers in
In the back of The Sports Exchange building in Truckee, behind scores of outdoor equipment available to the public, there lies a hidden treasure.
For more than 10 years, two rooms have housed indoor climbing walls that contain various rock formations, simulating any degree of difficulty one might encounter in the sport of bouldering – a form of mountain climbing that doesn’t require ropes.
Bouldering is typically performed on crags, or single-pitch formations.
“A lot of people consider it training for bigger climbing, but it’s become a sport in itself now,” said Jeff Geigle, a gym manager at The Sports Exchange. “The only thing you would possibly need, which is not even necessary a lot of times, is a pad that you put on the ground to protect landings over sharp rocks.”
Geigle, 29, has worked at The Sports Exchange for a year and a half, the same amount of time he has called Truckee home. An outdoor climbing enthusiast for the last 15 years, he takes full advantage of unlimited access to the climbing walls that employees are granted. He said he utilizes the climbing gym three days each week.
Like most climbers in the Tahoe area, he prefers the outdoors when the weather permits it, but indoor climbing provides a quality place to practice. To him, the climbing walls were the main attraction when he signed on at The Sports Exchange.
“I’ve been climbing for years and years,” Geigle said. “So I thought, what a perfect place to meet climbers and get a foothold in the social scene here.”
Plus, training in the indoor facility allows Geigle to stay in climbing shape.
“Indoor bouldering is great fun,” said Geigle, one of 12 employees at The Sports Exchange. “It gets you strong and lets you learn techniques that apply outside.”
Geigle had been working as a network engineer in Baltimore in the computer industry. It was a convenient place to enhance his career goals, but he wanted to move to a place that included more easily accessible places to climb.
He became frustrated by the distance he had to drive to get to his favorite bouldering areas on the East Coast.
“Friday night I would get off work and drive six hours to West Virginia,” he said, “then climb Saturday and half of Sunday, then drive home and be exhausted on Monday. I was doing that every weekend for several years in a row. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, it’s hard to live there.”
One of Geigle’s climbing buddies is Stuart Emerson, a route setter at The Sports Exchange and a resident of Truckee for the last five years.
“For training indoors, it’s the only place I really go,” said Emerson, who has been bouldering for roughly 10 years. “I go about three days a week. It builds muscle and builds up strength for climbing.”
When Geigle and Emerson are not inside, they agree the bouldering areas near Donner Summit are the optimal places to go. Geigle also scales rocks in the North Shore Lake Tahoe area, and Emerson likes the Big Chief area by Sierra Meadows.
As route setters, Geigle and Emerson can set up formations in the gym from simple to extremely difficult. These simulated conditions allow climbers to prepare for situations they will encounter in a real outdoor climb. And preparation allows climbers to feel more comfortable with their abilities.
“A route setter’s main objective is to set up problems that people can progress on in their abilities,” Geigle said. “They see that they’re getting better and they want to come back and try another harder problem.”
A love for the outdoors and climbing is also what influenced new owner Brent Cutler, 32, a Lodi, Calif.-transplant, to make the move to Truckee. He has owned The Sports Exchange for approximately one month, and he realizes the importance of the indoor climbing wall to his new business.
“It’s got a big following with the local climbers,” Cutler said, “and the parents and kids love it for birthday parties.”
Cutler, already a fan of the outdoor opportunities in the Tahoe area, saw an advertisement for the sale of the store, and jumped all over the opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to live in Truckee and also own my own business,” he said. “It set the bill all in one envelope. The whole lifestyle is what I like. I’m excited to be a business owner in a small community.”
The proud new owner plans to make a permanent move to Truckee with his wife and two kids by Christmas Day.
The busiest times at the gym are Tuesday and Thursday nights. The weekends are also fairly busy. The winter months are the most popular because climbers tend to practice outside in the summer. Summer is more popular for family gatherings at the climbing walls.
Since no formal instruction is offered in the packages, now is a good time for beginners to watch and emulate how some of the experienced climbers maneuver some of the more difficult formations.
Rates are $50 for a 10-pack that expires after one year, a one-month pass for $40 that allows a person unlimited use for 30 days, or $8 for a day pass. Rental shoes are available for $3.
The climbing wall provides a safe environment for beginners. Since it opened, there have been no serious injuries, Cutler said. A 10-inch pad, made from leftover rubber covered by carpet, awaits fallen climbers.
But the same cannot be said for the outdoors, and Geigle knows firsthand what it is like to fall on the rocks. Roughly 10 years ago, Geigle suffered broken bones after he plummeted 70 feet.
But Geigle did not let the incident deter him from climbing, it just made him a little more cautious.
“As soon as I healed, I went right back and did the same climb that I fell on, to kind of get the skeletons out of the closet,” he said. “I know a lot of climbers that have been hurt bad, but if you love the activity you do, you’re not going to let an injury stop you. You just take better precautions.”
At the end of the winter season, The Sports Exchange will hold a competition through the American Bouldering Series.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.