On the Rocks 

A Scene writer gets her belay on at an indoor climbing gym

A Scene writer gets her belay on at an indoor climbing gym

I somehow managed to spend four years in Colorado without learning to rock climb. I attempted bouldering for a day—just me, a big boulder with intriguing problems etched along its skin, some dreadfully tight climbing shoes, a little chalk and a friend kind enough to spot. No rope involved. Clinging to the red rock just a few feet above the ground, I was enthralled, but never pursued the sport.

It was a fact that would haunt me five years later at a friend's wedding in the mountains of Northern California. Following the ceremony, the first thing on the wedding party's collective mind was bouldering...naturally. I gulped big, squeezed my feet into a borrowed pair of shoes and went along. The next day, I got on a plane to Nashville in the preboarding group—reserved for families with small children and folks in wheelchairs. I was now a member of the latter group, as my right ankle was the size of an infant's head.

Bouldering had not gone well. So, sitting on the airplane home, I decided that if I was ever to show my face at another college wedding, I had serious work to do.

It must be fate, then, that the largest indoor climbing gym in the Southeastern United States has landed in my very own neighborhood. And maybe it was fate—or zeitgeist, or divine intervention—that caused Lance Brock, 32, and Drew Sloss, 27, to happen upon each other and the Sylvan Park space where the West End Climb Nashville now sits. Both were young, enthusiastic climbers—one an architect, the other a mechanical engineer. Neither had experience running a business, yet both were determined to create a refuge for Nashville's rock climbing community.

Soon after moving into the space on Redmon Street—a dilapidated indoor tennis facility located next to Nashville Ballet—the partners took over the former Classic Rock gym in Cool Springs in August of 2003. Running the Cool Springs Climb Nashville while simultaneously constructing the West End location might have caused weaker individuals to throw in their carabineers for good. As Sloss recalls, it took them weeks just to repair the West End ceiling, which had been victimized in its previous life by too many wild overhead smashes. During Climb Nashville's infancy, Brock and Sloss often worked 105 to 110 hours a week. Sloss, who could often be found sleeping in his car outside the new gym, describes their first year in business as "an amazing year and one I don't ever want to repeat."

The sweat and toil have apparently paid off. Business is booming at the 13,000-square-foot West End location, which features 11,500 square feet of climbing surface, 40-foot walls, and a nifty top-out boulder. Sloss estimates that they have already tempted thousands of climbers—young and old, beginner and advanced—through the doors since opening on March 1, 2004.

And so it was here at Climb Nashville that my formal introduction to climbing began, at the hands of Brentwood High student Andrew George and Max Marlowe, a 10-year-old wise beyond his years and more buff than most 20-something guys. During a very brief Climbing 101 session, Andrew taught me to belay—to act as the counterweight to my friend so that she didn't fall to her death while climbing. Then my partner and I were let loose to tackle routes on our own.

Introduced to climbing a year-and-a-half ago by his parents, Max found himself missing swim practice to come to the climbing gym instead. "I just got bored always staring at the bottom of the pool," Max explains, gleefully adding, "I want to keep doing this as long as I can." As we climbed side-by-side—Max on a difficult route, my partner and I on a bunny slope—I admired the fact that he seemed able to ignore gravity altogether. He flew up the wall confidently, while we took turns clawing our way to the top.

Indeed, Brock and Sloss have discovered that introducing young people to the sport of climbing has been one of their biggest payoffs. "Unlike a lot of other sports," Sloss points out, "climbing isn't so much about competing against other kids. It's about challenging yourself and seeing if you can take it just a little bit further the next time. I'd really like to see our programs become a kind of outreach for kids...a safe place that encourages a healthy lifestyle. I really want us to be a part of building a healthier Nashville."

To that end, Climb Nashville's West End location also offers access to weights and fitness equipment, as well as yoga and fitness classes. "Our goal wasn't to have tons of programs," Sloss tells the Scene. "Instead, we just wanted to have some of the very best instructors around." They have just that in Active Yoga's Hilary Lindsay, who also instructs the Tennessee Titans and former Titan Eddie George, among others. Active Yoga classes take place at the West End location on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. In addition, Tuesday and Thursday evenings feature ab classes by personal trainers from InnerStrength, whose client list includes fitness novices and adventure racers alike.

Whether you are looking for a new experience or just dusting off your old climbing shoes in honor of the new year, there's plenty to grab hold of at Climb Nashville. For more information about Climb Nashville's classes, group parties, memberships and more, call 463-7625 or visit www.climbnashville.com. The West End location is at 3630 Redmon St., #1, Nashville; the Cool Springs location is at 121 Seaboard Lane, #10, Franklin.

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