While we do a lot of work behind the desk here at CeSI, we’re not a bunch of desk bound sloths. We like to get out and exercise. One of my favorite activities is visiting Vertical World, my local climbing gym in Redmond.

Vertical World prides itself on having opened the first rock climbing gym in America. It opened on Elliot Ave in Seattle in 1987. Since then they have opened a number of locations in Seattle, Everett, and Redmond. These gyms offer several types of climbing including belaying and top roping, but my favorite is bouldering.

Climbing in the bouldering section of the gym is a very unique experience. I would recommend that everyone try this at least once. What makes this facility so different is not the ascent of the climbing wall, but the safety provisions below.

A route is a series of rocks attached to a wall leading from the bottom to the top. These rocks are labeled with tape to designate their association with a particular challenge. Completing a route involves scaling a wall using only the rocks marked with a specific color of tape. A typical bouldering route is only about two stories high (maybe 20ft). Yet, pulling oneself up a challenging route can be tiring. Unlike climbing outdoors, the routes in the gym are crafted by someone’s mind. Typically this sick individual will save one of the hardest moves for last. So once you’re drained you still have the toughest challenge of the route ahead of you.

Several months ago, I was working on a particularly challenging route. After nearly 20ft I still had that notorious last move to complete. While holding on to the wall with one hand I tried to reach as far as I could, but I couldn’t quite reach the finish. Reaching for the finish I sacrificed stability in the hand holding me to the wall. I slipped and suddenly found myself free falling. It was a scary experience.

This fall is what makes the bouldering section of the gym so unique. I fell those 20ft straight onto my back. Yet, the only consequence of my mistake was that I was unable to finish the route. I was completely unharmed.

The floors are designed specifically for this type of fall. Falling onto the floors of Vertical World is like falling onto the world’s largest mattress. This means you can experience the thrills of free climbing, minus most of the risk. It’s even safe to jump down once you’ve completed a route.

But facilities are not the only thing that Vertical World has to offer.

The gym hosts regular events. They host climbing competitions, charity events, and most recently a complimentary BBQ for gym members. The staff are great too. They change the routes out on a regular basis providing climbers new challenges. Probably most importantly, everyone working at the gym works there because they love climbing. The staff are glad to talk shop and give you some tips (even though they offer classes and instruction).

The other climbers help shape the experience too. Climbing is not just a physical challenge, but a mental one. Some challenging routes can be incredibly easy once you see the tricks needed to complete them. For this reason the culture of Vertical World is excellent. Climbers work together to solve these puzzles, offer encouragement, and congratulations when a route is completed.

You can find all of this under one roof in Redmond, in a converted warehouse.