Inside a massive warehouse just north of Interstate 90, a construction crew is hard at work.
The workers are transforming the 20,000-square-foot former machinery storage site into Seattle’s newest and largest climbing gym. Seattle Bouldering Project, slated to open in late April, aims to draw climbers from the Eastside, South Seattle and around the city by virtue of its location, size and unique attributes.
Unlike the existing climbing gyms around the city, Seattle Bouldering Project will focus entirely on bouldering. In bouldering, climbers are not roped to anything, and climb only to a distance where they can safely fall to the floor.
“Rope climbing has a lot of barriers,” said Chris Potts, co-owner of Seattle Bouldering Project. “You need to have skills, and you need the equipment. You can come in here in jeans with no equipment at all and just start climbing.”
Potts and fellow co-owner Andy Wyatt opted to create a climbing gym without ropes because they believe bouldering offers greater flexibility, a better workout, and a richer social experience. When climbing with ropes, someone must have a partner to belay him or her. Climbers spend half the session standing and spotting their partners, reducing the time they are actually exercising.
“Bouldering is great for training because you can do long traverses and short, difficult routes at a high intensity,” Potts said.
In addition, because climbers work in teams of two on the ropes, with one focused on the safety of the other, they are less likely to be interacting with others in the gym, Potts and Wyatt believe. They say bouldering encourages play and socializing.
“You get to talk with your friends and meet new people,” Wyatt said. “Bouldering is so much more dynamic.”
Once Seattle Bouldering Project opens, Potts and Wyatt envision climbers working together and moving throughout the gym’s 13,000 square feet of climbing surface. Climbers can tackle three free-standing structures and seven perimeter rock walls. On one wall of the gym, a climber can traverse for a full 130 feet.
Depending on the slope of the wall and the spacing of handholds, the gym will offer climbs for experts and newbies alike. The floor will be covered with 16-inch thick padding, enabling someone to fall from the top of the 16-foot structures without getting hurt.
“It will be like falling onto a high jump pad,” Potts said.
Potts and Wyatt fell in love with bouldering while living in Portland, where they regularly visited The Circuit Bouldering Gym. They decided to bring the concept to Seattle. Potts and Wyatt recruited a small group of private investors to fund the project and began searching for a space.
Last summer, they discovered the warehouse, which sits just west of Rainier and just south of I-90. Because two popular climbing gyms in Seattle proper – Vertical World and Stone Gardens – are located in the far northwest quadrant of the city, Potts and Wyatt figured they could tap into an under-served climbing population. (Vertical World is planning to move its Seattle gym into a new, larger space later this year, but it will remain in the Magnolia neighborhood. Vertical World also has gyms in Everett, , Bremerton and Tacoma; the Tacoma gym focuses on bouldering.)
Seattle Bouldering Project features 28-foot-high walls and windows that stretch floor to ceiling, bathing the gym in natural light. The building has such ample space that a person can easily move between rock walls without worrying about stepping in someone’s path or risking someone falling on them.
“We’re trying to take advantage of the amazing qualities of this space,” Potts said. “We want to capitalize on the natural light and open layout.”
When I visited the gym last week, crews were working to attach plywood to the steel structures that form the climbing walls. The plywood will soon be coated with textured paint, typically used on the deck surface of aircraft carriers, to resemble Northwest granite.
Once construction is completed, roll-up glass doors will connect a portion of the interior to an outdoor patio. Potts and Wyatt also plan to build out a snack bar, retail shop, yoga studio, weight room and locker rooms.
Potts and Wyatt designed a portion of Seattle Bouldering Project with kids in mind. That room includes a fort with a slide, a treehouse castle, and a kids’ climbing rock with shorter falls, an easier angle, and additional padding. Potts and Watt envision parents dropping off their children for supervised play and climbing sessions after school. In addition, Seattle Bouldering Project will offer birthday parties and summer camps.
For adults who have never climbed before, Seattle Bouldering Project offers introductory classes. Because bouldering requires no rope or belay skills, novices can easily sample climbing by picking a beginner route and staying as close to the floor as they feel comfortable with.
Seattle Bouldering Project offers monthly memberships at $60, annual memberships for $600, and day passes at $16 for an adult or $12 for a student. All gym users can borrow climbing shoes from the gym for free.