Scaling new heights

New indoor climbing venue 
Vertical Endeavor opens

WHITTIER — Vertical Endeavors district supervisor Jason Noble describes his company’s new 26th & Nicollet indoor climbing facility as “probably the nicest climbing gym in the U.S.”

Noble should know. He’s been climbing indoors for almost two decades and manages all four Vertical Endeavors locations, splitting his time between the Twin Cities, Duluth and Chicago.

It almost seems as though the old Ice House building at 2540 Nicollet Ave. S., built in 1900, was constructed with indoor climbing in mind.

“This was a perfect fit for us,” Noble said.

The building’s height allowed architects to build a climbing wall that reaches 60 feet, almost 20 feet higher than any other Vertical Endeavors facilities.

Vertical Endeavors founder and owner Nate Postma said he had long wanted to open a climbing wall in Minneapolis, but finding the right site wasn’t easy.

“I looked at probably 100 sites, but [height] was why I rejected all of them,” he said.

Postma said he and Noble gave each other “the look” during their first tour of the old Ice House building. It was love at first sight.

“There aren’t too many climbing facilities taller than 50 feet,” Postma said, adding that builders constructed a 10-foot trench at Vertical Endeavor’s original 26-foot-tall St. Paul location just to get the climbing wall near 40 feet.

Postma, an avid climber and former 3M researcher, founded Vertical Endeavors in the early ’90s in part because he had nowhere to climb during the winter.

He said the Minneapolis gym represents a culmination of all the lessons he’s learned during the past two decades.

The Minneapolis facility “is really state of the art,” he said. “There aren’t many climbing facilities taller than 50 feet, and it’s a big deal because the extra height really matters.”

At the Minneapolis gym, most climbing routes are set against a cement backdrop with moveable rubber holds mimicking the types of rock indentations climbers encounter outdoors. Climbers are either tethered to a safety apparatus from the top of the wall or can tether themselves with clips as they advance higher.

Advanced routes generally feature smaller holds with placements that contort climbers’ bodies as they move upward toward the building’s ceiling. But the most difficult climb at the Southwest Vertical Endeavors might be up the facility’s impressively realistic synthetic rock face.

The synthetic rock face includes challenging features not often seen at indoor facilities.And the wall’s height means the climb becomes a test of endurance toward the top.

Valerie Barbaro has been climbing at the original Vertical Endeavors gym in St. Paul for about a half decade. She came to 26th & Nicollet on Nov. 3 — opening day for the new facility — to check out the new gym and sat catching her breath after sampling some of the gym’s 25,000-square-foot climbing wall.

Compared to St. Paul, the Southwest Vertical Endeavors “is a lot more realistic as far as outdoor climbing is concerned,” Barbaro said. “It’s tough for those of us used to 30-foot walls.”

She was joined during her visit by friends Patrick Maun and Steve Mercer. The three became pals after regularly seeing each other climbing at the St. Paul gym.

“For a lot of us it’s really about both training and the social scene,” Maun said, adding that he and his climbing pals regularly take trips to outdoor climbing destinations throughout the country. “It’s a very tight community here in the Twin Cities.”

While scaling the synthetic rock face, Maun, 43, occasionally paused mid-climb to survey the terrain above and below. Since the new wall presents an unfamiliar set of challenges, he appeared to be approaching the climb the same way he would an unfamiliar natural rock face.

“A lot of outdoor climbing is about reading features — it’s about the mental game as much as the physical thing,” he said. “The older you get, you can’t climb as hard, but you excel in areas like balancing and the mental aspect of figuring out specific moves.”

“It’s like vertical chess,” he said.

Richard Sletten said he has been climbing for so long he can remember the days before harnesses were used, and he started as a full-time staffer at Vertical Endeavors last summer.

He said he often observes new climbers struggling because they approach a climb as a series of pull-ups instead rather than a strategic mind-body exercise.

“You tend to focus on what’s at your eyes but you need to be scanning around you, looking down at your feet too,” he said.

Climbers checking out the new Vertical Endeavors climbing gym on opening day said climbing presents a remarkable core strength workout. And since the holds can be resized and moved around, indoor climbing remains a challenge even for veteran climbers.

Maun, a St. Paul regular for 13 years, said “as long as the routes are good, it’s a different challenge each time.”