The History of Indoor Rock Climbing

The indoor rock climbing industry has exploded over the last 20 years, and new gyms are opening every day. Youth competitive climbing teams are becoming a fun alternative to traditional team sports for children. Indoor Rock Climbing will be an official Olympic sport in 2020, which will only create more demand for the indoor climbing experience. Climbing gyms started as a way to train during off-seasons for outdoor climbers, but have evolved into so much more.

There are hundreds of climbing gyms across the United States. There are already 4.5 million climbers in the United States, and approximately 1,000 new visitors check out a climbing gym every day. How did this idea evolve from the great outdoors to the thriving indoor scene that now exists? Here’s a look at the history of indoor rock climbing:

The Beginning:

Many people believe that Don Robinson was the first to build an indoor climbing structure, but this is a myth. The first indoor climbing wall was created at The Ullswater School in Penrith, England in 1960. Their climbing wall was constructed in the school’s new gym and used bricks and stone for hand and foot holds. This structure even had a top-rope bar.

In 1961, Colin Murtlock created an indoor climbing wall in the sports hall at Royal Wolverhampton School in West Midlands. He glued wooden slats to the wall and used them to train finger strength and stamina in the off-season.

In 1962, The Meadow Boys Club built a climbing wall in Nottingham, England to train personal skill levels, not just teach the fundamentals and safety rules of climbing. It was similar to the wall created at Ullswater School, but the new wall introduced aid climbing across the steel framed roof as well. They used an architect wall, and added bricks to various cavities to increase difficulty levels for training purposes.

The Days of Don Robinson:

Don Robinson created his iconic wall at the Leeds University in 1964. He had witnessed experienced climbers injuring themselves due to lack of training during the off-seasons, and decided to try to make a training tool to prevent this. He used glued-on rocks and stones on an existing brick wall to simulate movements that climbers would make outside. Climbers expanded on the original traverse to create their own routes and games to train. Inspired by the success of his wall, he went on to create the DR Climbing Wall company in the mid 70’s.

The Birth of Modern Climbing:

In 1987, the climbing gym fad reached the U.S. In Seattle, an old factory was renovated and opened as the first American climbing gym, Vertical World, and is still operating today. After Metolius started making plastic bolt-on climbing holds in the 1980’s, gyms were able to change routes quicker and make newer, lighter climbing walls.

Technology is starting to change the indoor climbing world. The TruBlu Autobelay impacted the industry in a major way, allowing people to climb top-rope routes without a partner. Recently, the Augmented Climbing Wall was released and could change the way gyms work entirely. According to the website, the “Augmented Climbing Wall combines projected graphics and proprietary body tracking to create interactive games and training applications.” This will allow numerous routes to be created on smaller spaces and give feedback to help you with your climbing technique.

Climbing gyms have come a long way since their humble beginnings. They started as a way for seasoned climbers to train and have become a place to exercise and meet people. Thousands of people visit climbing gyms every day, from professionals to newbies, and it will be interesting to see how the industry adapts and changes with emerging technology and growing demand.

Where is climbing headed next? Climbing gyms have come a long way since their humble beginnings. They started as a way for seasoned climbers to train and have become a place to exercise and meet people. Thousands of people visit climbing gyms every day, from professionals to newbies, and it will be interesting to see how the industry adapts and changes with emerging technology and growing demand.