Climbers come to Kentucky for popular destinations like Red River Gorge. But for newcomers to the sport or enthusiasts who want to build strength in between trips, indoor climbing is an increasingly popular option. In Bowling Green, Vertical eXcape welcomes climbers of all ages and experience levels.
“What does a rock climber look like? You do picture the hippie, tattoos, young people,” says Elizabeth Forbes, a climber from Bowling Green. “But that was quickly dispelled when I came to the gym, because you’re surrounded by people of all ages, all sizes. You almost have this common bond automatically: Oh, you’re into climbing! You must be all right.”
Forbes first stepped into Vertical eXcape to prepare for a 50th birthday trip to Yosemite. She started with a techniques class to learn the basics, and has continued with the sport ever since.
“We have three different types of climbing in the facility,” says Paige Roberts of Vertical eXcape. “We have auto belays, which are an automatic rope system that you can climb by yourself. We have the bouldering area where you can climb shorter walls with no rope at all, but over a thick mat surface. And then we have some top rope and lead areas in our facility, which is where you would need a partner. Lead is a little bit more advanced, but that’s the type of climbing we do to train to go outside.”
For climbers like Forbes, putting in some training time indoors makes outdoor climbing a more enjoyable experience.
“The [indoor] routes are color-coded, so you kind of know where you’re supposed to be going next,” says Forbes. “Outdoors, you don’t have that. The best you can look for is somebody else’s chalk marks. It’s a little more challenging when you go outside and have to think on your own and make those decisions and try different things to get to the top. You’re definitely going to be a step ahead if you’ve had indoor climbing experience.”
Sport climbing is set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in the summer of 2021, which will put the sport in front of new audiences for the first time.
“Hopefully people will be watching the Olympics from home and see artificial holds in walls, just like we have here,” says Roberts. “It’s very possible that we’ve got kids in here now climbing at Vertical eXcape Bowling Green who could be in the Olympics one day.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life #2523, which originally aired on August 15, 2020. Watch the full episode.