By CHRIS BARLOW
Stepping outside your comfort zone can be intimidating for anyone, and that has become increasingly true in the age of COVID-19.
Despite the mental hurdles we all create for ourselves Craig Burzynski, co-owner of three Adventure Rock Indoor Climbing Gyms in the Milwaukee area, said the sport of climbing is open to all ages and types of people.
“From the outside, climbing can be an intimidating sport. But anyone can climb,” Burzynski assured.
If a person is curious as to what climbing has to offer, they can stop in at any number of area gyms and other climbing spots with no knowledge of the sport and be climbing in ten minutes.
“After one or two visits, a person begins to see what the sport is all about and if they are likely to fit into it,” Burzynski said. “For a lot of people, it ends up being a way for people to do more and stay fit. Climbing changes people’s lives.”
Adventure Rock has adjusted to life in the pandemic and has adopted some standard rules such as mask wearing, sanitizing hands after each climb, cleaning the area after each climber is done and limiting the number of climbers in any given area.
Burzynski had to close during the Spring due to restrictions handed to him by the state and city. As soon as they were able to open up, Adventure Rock put policies in place to protect their customers.
“When we re-opened in late May we felt it was important to put in capacity limits so people could come in and work-out and have enough space between themselves and other climbers,” Burzynski said. “We have continued to operate using a capacity limit, in part because our customers feel more comfortable with the restriction in place.”
Frequent customer Brandon Penkalski from Milwaukee said he was pleasantly surprised at the steps Adventure Rock had taken to keep the customers safe. Penkalski has been climbing for 6-7 years and takes frequent outdoor climbing trips with a friend.
“I do it for the physical and mental outlet,” Penkalski said.
Climbing as a sport was entrenched as an outdoor activity long before the advent of indoor places to climb. There are some major differences between the two, but the underlying concept is quite similar. Making the transition from indoor climbing to outdoor climbing can be intimidating but most who make that leap are happy they did so.
“One difference between indoor and outdoor is when you are indoors there are obvious routes,” Penkalski said. “Outside the route is not so obvious.”
The other major differences between the two are easily apparent and are actually a little scary. Things like having no soft place to land if you fall, unpredictable weather conditions, gear required and the surface that is being climbed will all play a part. The climbing community takes safety seriously, but this is particularly true in the outdoor version.
“No matter how many times you’ve climbed indoors, your first time outside will present a number of challenges you didn’t expect,” Adventure Rock customer Brianne Wills said. “But making the transition was well worth it for me.”
Another major difference is the equipment needed. Indoor climbers bring their water bottle, climbing shoes and can simply strap-on a harness and go. Outdoors, there is a much more extensive array of required gear for safely enjoying the sport.
To explore outdoor climbing, you can certainly do so in Wisconsin. Penkalski said that Devils Lake is the most common local destination, but he also usually takes trips with his climbing buddy to more distant locales such as Kentucky and Colorado.
“Climbing can take you to some of the most beautiful places in the world,” Burzynski said.
There are now three localized sites for Adventure Rock: Brookfield, East Side, and Walkers Point. But the number of indoor climbing locations overall is growing since Burzynski and his partners first opened in Brookfield in 1998. Their most recent location opened up on South 2nd Street in August 2020.
“When we first opened in Brookfield it was an extremely bizarre notion that we had rock climbing indoors,” Burzynski said. “Early on it was mostly hardcore climbers staying fit in the off-season. We were small, and it was pretty tough in the beginning.”
Burzynski said life changing advances like the internet made it possible to build awareness of the sport and added that health memberships across the board have been steadily increasing over the years.
“Climbing is attractive because there are some very tangible goals that a climber can meet every time they come in,” Burzynski said. “There are physical and easily measurable goals based on strength, body movement, physical endurance and mental acuity.”
Like most clubs, there is also a beneficial social aspect to indoor climbing.
“Climbing gyms are sort of like a bar for people who want to stay active,” Burzynski said. “There is also a strong sense of community in indoor climbing that has contributed to our success over the years.”
There is no doubt that climbing has been growing in popularity and acceptance. The Olympics planned to have the sport be among the competitions at the Tokyo Games in 2020 before the games got scuttled due to COVID.
On the local level, Adventure Rock is a part of the growing trend in high school climbing leagues. They currently have over 22 schools participating which include teams from Tosa East and West. Other area high schools that either have or currently are competing in competitive climbing are Brookfield, Waukesha and Menomonee Falls.
The schools currently are competing “virtually” with times and difficulty of routes taken into consideration to determine winners. They design a route, submit their times, and can see where they stand competitively.
“It’s a lifelong sport for kids that often starts in high school,” Burzynski said. “It’s a contactless sport and the kids can come in and remain active.”
You can find hours of availability, COVID-19 rules and the current number of climbers at Adventurerock.com/mke/
For a comprehensive list of indoor places to climb in Wisconsin head over to 99boulders.com/Wisconsin-climbing-gyms