Monday, July 27, 2015

Gym review: Earth Treks Golden

One advantage of visiting Colorado during an exceptionally rainy week is that we never have to feel awkward about spending time inside.  While I usually pack my time there with as much hiking and climbing as I can get, the weather decided otherwise during my visit to Boulder a couple weeks ago, and our time instead became filled with brewery stops and the occasional gym climbing session just to keep ourselves moving a bit.

Earth Treks Golden opened up just a couple months after my last trip to Colorado, and from everything I'd heard about it, I couldn't wait to check it out.  If nothing else, as a member of the Earth Treks locations back in Maryland, it was nice to know that there was a gym in Colorado where I could climb for free.  Even nicer was the fact that so many of the Maryland employees migrated out to staff the new location, making me feel at home right from the beginning.

We only did a couple of the routes, but I was definitely impressed.  The walls had a much greater variety of angles and curves than most gyms I've experienced, which was a perfect complement to the style of Golden's head setter, whose routes tend to be as visually appealing as they are fun to climb. Consistent with the Maryland locations, they use a single color of holds rather than colored tape when setting, eliminating the annoying and unrealistic (by outdoor standards) problem of having to waste energy while trying to look around a foothold to see if the tape is the right color.

The texture of the walls was great too. Even many of the easier routes were set to take full advantage of the high friction surface, forcing climbers to trust their smearing ability rather than giving them an obvious ladder of footholds.  Although I had heard that Golden's wall texture was rough compared some of the other local gyms,  I didn't realize how true this was until I revisited one of my favorite Boulder gyms a couple days later and was frustrated by the difficulty I had with smearing there.  True, a smoother wall surface does help train greater strength in moving directly from hold to hold, thereby helping a setter force a certain sequence, and encouraging climbers to commit to larger moves.  And yes, I've definitely encountered glassy boulders that made smearing nearly impossible, but as someone who has an unhealthy obsession with slab climbing, I also recognize that there's so much more to it than pasting your foot somewhere and hoping it sticks.  Like any climbing movement, there's a refinement to good foot placement between obvious holds that can only be found through repeated experimentation, and Golden is a place that definitely facilitates that.

The bouldering area was easily the most impressive of any of the Earth Treks locations, and possibly the best I've seen from any gym I've visited.  As with the roped areas, the variety of terrain was phenomenal. From gentle scoops on rounded topout boulders to steep and sustained overhangs, I wish this was a bouldering cave I had closer to home.  The fully padded floor was a nice addition, allowing a climber to commit to a move without worry about inadvertently hitting a pad edge and rolling an ankle.  Like the other locations, convenient downclimbing handles were located throughout the bouldering area, giving a great alternative to jumping down or trying to downclimb smaller holds when already pumped.  Add in some top-quality setting, and it's a place that will be turning out little bouldering monsters for years.

And then there's the training area...

A full weight room downstairs, complete with multiple bars and hanging shapes.  Three beautifully set system boards upstairs, all adjustable from vertical to steep.  Even if the rest of the gym didn't exist, I'd go to Golden just for this.  So jealous.

And speaking of jealous...

A dedicated footwash in the locker room, rather than having to awkwardly grab a bunch of paper towels from the sink and walk into the shower fully clothed just so I can stand my own feet on the ride home? Brilliant.  Pretty sure this should be required in any gym built from here on out.

I'll admit that the Columbia Earth Treks is still my favorite, both because it's my home gym and because we have the best slab and crack terrain of them all, but Golden was a work of art.  Having seen the changes as the Maryland locations have expanded and improved, it was cool to see how Earth Treks was able to combine successful aspects of their existing gyms with new ideas that could only be pulled off when starting from scratch.  It also makes me excited to see what direction they'll take in future gyms and expansions, given what they've learned from this one.  Thanks to everyone out there who showed us a good time, and congrats to Earth Treks on opening up such a great place!

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