You enter, step around the front desk, and your eyes are immediately confronted with the sight of towering walls covered in brightly colored, boulder-shaped holds and dangling ropes. There’re all sorts of different angles and planes to behold: vertical, inclined, even curving into the ceiling and wrapping around corners. The smell of chalk fills the air, and the sound of music mingles with the hum of activity.
All sorts of people cling to these plastic rocks, oftentimes more than twenty feet off the ground, attached to safety ropes with their limbs extended and muscles straining. There’s an obvious let’s do this, man vibe coursing through the place.
Welcome to the Alaska Rock Gym, one of the three indoor rock gyms in Anchorage.
ARG is located in midtown, just off Fairbanks Street. Featuring a large top roping section with multiple lines, a freehand bouldering area including caves and overhangs, and an upstairs weight room, ARG also offers shoe and harness rental, as well as climbing and technique lessons.
Day passes generally cost $15, or $60 for a month.
“I like ARG because it’s student friendly, fairly inexpensive to climb, and a great place to be at!” UAA student Halvor Norris said with enthusiasm. Norris comes to ARG to climb every other week, developing his form and strength.
And despite his cheesiness, he’s right—ARG is student friendly, offering every Friday night past 7 as College Night, with a reduced rate of $10 for students.
“We have lots of college students who come here,” said employee and UAA alumni Alison Ford. “It’s mostly college kids and military who are our main crowd, so yeah, we work to make it accommodating as possible.”
Ford and Angie Gastaldi, who is a UAA student, both work at ARG behind the desk and as instructors. They teach kids’ classes and climbing lessons on Mondays and Fridays, and Gastaldi is a self-proclaimed “DJ extraordinaire,” controlling the music pumping throughout the gym.
“The thing that’s great about this place is that it’s a really chill environment, with great vibes,” said Gastaldi. “Plus we’ve got great top routes—a bit more than anybody else, actually—and lots of bouldering routes too.”
It seems many people agree; ARG is quite popular, and most evenings are packed with climbers. A large amount of these patrons come regularly, and have great remarks about the gym.
“I really like this one,” said Hannah Coe, a student at UAA. “They have higher routes and they do top roping. I kind of like the adrenaline thing with the heights, so I really like it here.”
“It’s the cleanest facility, and they offer great top rope climbs and bouldering problems,” said Ryan Moyer, another UAA student. “The staff are super friendly, and they’re more than happy to show you how to approach a problem or offer general climbing tips.”
ARG also holds large climbing competitions throughout the year. The biggest include the Frigid Flash, held every February, the Pumpkin Pump in October, and No Strings Attached, a bouldering competition every December.
But while ARG may be popular, it’s by no means the only rock gym in town.
Found at the back end of the Anchorage Gymnastics Association facility, Cassel Rock is a bouldering extravaganza, featuring wall after wall of dizzyingly high boulder routes and curving overhangs. Top roping is an option, but free-body bouldering is undoubtedly the main venue, with the staff constantly working to set the “best and most unique boulder problems available.”
“It’s boulder heaven, if you’re into that sort of thing,” said Moyer. “They’re limited in their top roping availability, but there are so many routes.”
Clocking in at a cheaper price of $25 for a month or $6 for a day ($8.50 with shoes), Cassel Rock isn’t nearly as packed as ARG, with large expanses of climbing wall usually open. The groovy climbing vibe is found here as well, with energetic music and friendly and helpful employees who are just as likely to be found climbing alongside the visitors.
Cassel Rock’s spirit is embodied by one of its regulars, 11-year-old Tony Marke. Known as the “wonder boy of Cassel,” Marke has been climbing for four years, every day except for the weekends—“cause I just don’t climb on the weekends”—and parts of the summer—“cause that’s for fishing and hiking and vacations and stuff.”
The spunky kid can almost always be found at the rock gym once school is out. He’ll most likely challenge you to a climbing race, or scamper up and down the walls with the grace of a spider monkey.
“My favorite part about rock climbing is the overhangs, cause they’re a challenge,” said Marke. “Climbing is something you can always get better at.”
“Everyone should try rock climbing,” he proclaims. “It’s fun!”
APU Rock Wall
Not everything is fancy. Located in the basement level of APU’s Atwood Center, down tucked-away staircases and narrow hallways, is the university’s weight room area and rock wall. Occupying three corners of an area that includes free weights, machines, and a ping pong table, the bouldering-only rock wall features several routes of varying difficulty and a sprawling traverse course.
“It’s not a bad place to go if you want to get some bouldering in,” said Coe. “It’s really cheap.”
Indeed, the small rock gym is only $4 for students including shoes, and $40 for a semester pass. The summer hours are limited from 11am to 2pm, but during the semester it is open much later in the evening.
“During the school year I boulder at APU at least twice a week because it’s within walking distance of the dorms,” said Norris. “It’s an easy fix.”
“Although the walls and padding are the sketchiest of the three locations, you almost always have the place to yourself,” Moyer added. “The bottom line is you get what you pay for.”
And that’s just how it works with indoor rock climbing—the more you fork over, the greater the options you’re going to be presented with. But no matter where the climbing is done, one thing is certain for the dedicated climber: challenges abound; tenacity is rewarded; and healthy, energetic fun will be had.