Alaska Rock Gym Gets New Boulder

The Alaska Rock Gym unveiled a newly renovated free-standing boulder this October. The new boulder is taller, larger and changed the climbing angles available to athletes. 

The boulder is a free-standing climbing structure that provides a range of angles, from vertical to overhanging. Climbing holds can be screwed onto any and all of the plywood panels that make up the hollow structure. 

The previous boulder was completely torn down, and the new one is entirely built from the ground. The new boulder flares taller and wider, and changed angles where routes could be placed. 

Ted Phelps, Rock Gym Head Coach, said, “It’s connected to vertical framing that comes out as far as it needs to attach the handles. Once it’s connected to the frame, they can tighten it to squeeze everything together. Makes it structured really well. 

“That plywood you see is really thick, three-quarter inch plywood. It’s not snapping. If you look back into it, that vertical material is so solid. It’s right into the concrete.”

The majority of the bouldering level was closed during construction, leaving climbers to squeeze into a third of the floor, or climb on ropes on the floor below.  

Another noticeable change was the lack of a solid top. The intact top caused a problem with the last boulder, so the gym took the opportunity to fix it. 

Phelps said, “The initial process was kind of difficult, I had a lot of people who had different goals about what the boulder should be. We had people who wanted it to be very short because they thought topping out would be very dangerous, and there were those that had the perspective that the top-out should be very easy, a slab.

“When you combine those two things you end up with a boulder that’s largely unusable. Which is why we ended up making the design that we did. After about three years of using that, the original design, we found out it was a mistake.”

Participants in the Kids Club Climbing Classes, children between the ages of four and thirteen, had a habit of hiding from coaches or parents in a blind spot on top of the previous boulder, according to Phelps. This potentially dangerous issue had to be rectified as soon as possible. 

Phelps said, “I did the design, and laid it on the original plans so the wall company could see what the differences were. I sent that down to them and they cleaned it up. I was very adamant that one of the walls be 15 degrees, and the other be 25 degrees overhanging. 

“It was really fascinating, we added a lot of height to retrofit it.”

The boulder was first made available to climbers during the gym’s annual Pumpkin Pump competition, a highly anticipated and attended Halloween event where climbers dress in costumes and participate in a timed climbing competition, as well as a costume competition. 

To go with the larger boulder, thicker and wider fall mats were installed on the floor, expanding on the already existing, but thinner mats.

The general opinion at the Rock Gym is that the new boulder was a long-anticipated, worthwhile and needed improvement. 

Phelps said, “I’m just glad we did it. Kind of expensive, though.”

Athlete and Recreational Team Member Gretchen Glenn said, “Well, I think that the new wall is nicer because we have a new area to climb, and there’s new angles that we haven’t had before.

“We can’t top out on it anymore, but that’s good because of the little kids running around up there. It’s nice that it’s a bit taller, too.” 

Athlete and Recreational Team Member Ruthie Bellmore said, “Well, I think it challenges people more, it’s taller, there’s more angles.”