Nov 23rd and 24th
New Zealand has some amazing outdoor climbing, but unfortunately sometimes you don’t have the time to drive out to it. Or it could be raining… and when New Zealand rains, it makes sure that you are aware of the rain; what people in Mass refer to as “rain” New Zealanders call “light drizzle”, and “New Zealand rain” is better known as “having a fire-hose turned on you”. Seriously, its nuts. But when it is raining or you’re feeling too lazy to drive a few hours, there are always climbing gyms.
This is starting to become a theme I’m noticing… reviews of rock climbing gyms. But honestly, a climbing gym can be a really great place or a really depressing place, and finding the right gym can be almost as relieving as coming home after a long business trip abroad. In a good gym the routes are challenging but fair, the people are friendly but not creepy, and the atmosphere is laid back yet energizing. I’ve been to gyms that feel more like the weight room of a frat house or a center for road rage. But I’ve also been to gyms where everyone chats and helps push each other to greater feats of awesome, yet never insults or demeans people. A good gym can be a climbers second home… and oftentimes it really is (after the real rock walls, or course).
So when Mike came up on my third day in New Zealand and asked if I wanted to hit the climbing gym with him that night, I jumped on it. We headed to a place called “The Roxx”, which Mike told me was his favorite gym, and when we got there… dang but I was blown away. They had your normal bouldering cave and “fake-rock” walls, but they also had fully textured rock faces with features and cracks galore. In case you’ve never been to a climbing gym; most gyms have flat angled walls with climbing holds screwed onto the walls. Some (very few) gyms have “features” on their walls which mimic real outdoor rock by giving you small cracks and divots to hold on to while you’re climbing. The downside to using features is that its much harder to set up initially, and they can’t be changed around to make new routes… But in my opinion their definitely key, since it gives a much more accurate representation of climbing outside.
Roxx had entire walls made up of these features, showing off deep cracks, wide splits, and beautiful ledges that were crafted out of plaster-covered plywood and sculpted from rock-paste. Seriously, this gym had the best walls and features out of any indoor climbing I’ve ever been to, and I loved every minute of climbing up them. The “features only” climbs were mostly hard (rated 19+ on the New Zealand scale, so mostly 5.10b+), so I had a good tough time on the few that I could actually finish; and I left with more than a few new projects.
Unique note: The University of Canterbury doesn’t have an “Outdoorsing club” like Northeastern does. Instead, they have many smaller clubs that cater to the specific activities that make up outdoors adventures, such as a Tramping (hiking) club, a climbing club, a Kayaking club, etc… Kinda a bad idea in my opinion, since it makes it harder to negotiate with the university and to organize huge fun trips, but it seems to work well enough for UC, so good deal.
The next evening Mike and I decided that being tired and sore from one night of climbing wasn’t nearly enough, and headed to the University of Canterbury Rec center to check out the rock wall there. I was able to get in for free since the climbing club was having its weekly meeting and so we headed in, strapped on the shoes, and started trying out problems with the few climbers from the club who had come out. The vibe that we all had going on was actually something I haven’t run into in a while, and it was really refreshing to have a whole group of boulderers climbing and helping each other out with the harder moves.
Instead of just working routes though, I had a really fun time setting as well. Since the wall was rather small there weren’t many truly set routes, and there were even fewer routes that were taped – most of the actual “routes” were found by word-of-mouth or made up on the spot. After working a particularly reachy problem with some of the burlier guys I decided that I wanted one of my personal favorite bouldering routes and started picking out holds to build up an over-hanging and dynamic jug-fest. Everyone started coming over a trying it once I set it up though, and soon enough we had all eight of us taking turns trying to make the final few moves up to the top. It was really fun, and a really nice little ego boost to have everyone loving the route that I put up.
We climbed strong for a while, but soon enough we hit the 10:00 mark when the rec center started closing down. We packed up our gear, grabbed some extra rope and draws from the climbing clubs gear locker (talk about a blast of memory…) and jumped in the car to head home. A good day of climbing, and I’m really looking forward to hunting down the UC Climbing Club again soon.