Outdoor climbing is a natural fit with Southern California's climate and topography. A growing number of adventurers, however, are tackling gravity on indoor terrain.
The next generation of climbing gyms is joining stalwarts such as Rockreation in West L.A. and Arcadia Rock Climbing. Bay Area-based Touchstone Climbing & Fitness, which operates L.A. Boulders in the downtown arts district (with Hollywood and Culver City locations planned), and the Stronghold Climbing Gym in the Brewery Art Colony are among the newcomers helping to expand the sport's reach.
Stronghold co-owners Katharine Mullen and Peter Steadman knew of the growing demand for indoor climbing resources in Southern California when they moved to L.A. from the East Coast. They then heard about the 1904 Edison Electric Co. steam power plant building, an early work of architect John Parkinson that's part of the Brewery in Lincoln Heights, which in recent years had been used primarily as a film and television location.
The match between the idiosyncratic building and the needs of a climbing gym turned out to be ideal.
The couple — who together have approximately 50 years of climbing experience — opened the state-of-the-art gym in March 2014. The soaring interior contains steep vertical lead climbing and top-rope climbing; both methods use rope and harness equipment. Stronghold also offers horizontal-oriented bouldering, which focuses on shorter and more challenging routes without elaborate gear (just shoes, chalk and mats).
In a twist on the form-follows-function maxim, Stronghold's design elements, including 45-foot-high lead climbing walls, "were driven by the particular constraints" of the cavernous space, Steadman said. Thanks to his and Mullen's careful planning, climbers need not fear the hulking steel trusses and other exposed structural elements of the historic setting.
In addition, "we want to give people opportunities to work out pushing muscles" to balance climbing's predominantly pulling action. As is the case with most indoor climbing gyms, Stronghold has complete fitness amenities and a yoga studio, plus an extensive training area dubbed "the Pit." Specialized climbing equipment includes an array of campus boards and hangboards, as well as what's known as a super moon board.
Since the sport requires quick spatial analysis, Mullen's background as a physicist is an interesting confluence of skills. "The science and engineering mind-set really appeals to climbing," Steadman observed, also noting that Stronghold's regular clientele includes doctors from nearby L.A. County and USC medical institutions across the 5 Freeway. Another devoted group of climbers is kids ages 5 and up, who are welcome on Saturday afternoons, and the gym organizes a youth climbing team.
It's an activity that on the surface seems to be focused on individual achievement, but the associated risks and physical logistics make climbing far from a solo undertaking. As a result, it breeds a distinct community-mindedness, and the upbeat feeling of supportive camaraderie is palpable. Steadman explained how "being a part of the culture" was a motivation behind operating Stronghold too.
In fact, a quiet weekend at a climbing gym might simply mean that regulars have left town for outdoor climbing excursions together.
Looking for a place to hang?
Intrigued by the idea of a climbing gym? Here are spots to try:
- The Stronghold Climbing Gym
650 S. Ave. 21, Lincoln Heights
- Rockreation Sport Climbing Center
11866 La Grange Ave., West Los Angeles
1300 Logan Ave., Costa Mesa
- L.A. Boulders
1375 E. 6th St. #8, Downtown Arts District
- Hangar 18
(seven locations in Southern California, from San Clemente to Upland)
4926 W. Rosecrans Ave., Hawthorne
- Arcadia Rock Climbing
305 N. Santa Anita Ave., Arcadia
- Boulderdash Indoor Rock Climbing
19801 Nordhoff Place, Unit 110, Chatsworth
880 Hampshire Road, Westlake Village