Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Gainesville Rock Gym

A lot has happened since my last post. As most of you know, my residence in Boulder has come to an end and I've moved to Gainesville, FL. Needless to say, things are a bit different here. The people are larger, the food is greasier and the landscape is flatter. At least there's a climbing gym...

The Gainesville Rock Gym, vertical toproping, overhang/"lead" wall in the back
And that's what I want to talk about today: the merits and failings of the Gainesville Rock Gym. I've been in Gainesville for about two months now so I've had enough time to get a feel for the GRG.

6' tall bouldering cave
Let's start with the bouldering. Fortunately, there is a pretty good amount of wallspace for bouldering. There is a ramp/tunnel leading from the ground floor up to a second level, a 60°+ overhang, a slab, a low ceiling room, a small topout boulder and a 20°ish overhang. Unfortunately most of space is horizontal roofs or vertical walls less than 7 feet tall which immediately transition to a horizontal roof. Also unfortunately, a lot of the wall space looks like it was designed by someone who hadn't spent enough time in gyms to know how to design the walls for one. The design of the walls makes route setting very difficult in many places. There are a lot of 90° corners and sharp transitions from vertical to horizontal. It is very difficult to set fun and consistent routes on this type of terrain. Overall, I think the route setters have done a good job with what they have. There are many problems from V0-V13 so finding something to work on was not an issue and many of the problems actually climb really well. Also, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good climbing on a horizontal roof. It usually ends up feeling thrutchy and thuggish. I much prefer technical movement on a 10-45 degree overhang.

The underused (and undersized) topout boulder
As for the route climbing, this has been largely a disappointment. The walls are in the 30' range and there are only 2 parts that are not dead on vertical. There is an arch that's about 7' wide connecting 2 vertical walls near the top (visible in the 1st picture above) and there's a better overhang that ranges from 10-40° with a short vertical headwall at the top. I was most disappointed in two things. First of all, the lead climbing situation is abismal. It costs money to get lead certified: $22 for non-members, as much as 2 day passes. You also have to sign up on a sheet and leave your phone
Upper level with more horizontal roofs and
the top of the tunnel/ramp
number so that someone can call you later to set up the lead test/class. Apparently only a few of the staff are able to give the lead test. Helmets are mandatory when leading which doesn't make the gym feel any cooler either. Unfortunately, none of this seems to have helped with the capability of the lead belayers. I've already had to point out some pretty sketchy belaying to the staff. Also, there are only 2(!) lines of draws in the whole gym so don't plan on leading a large variety of routes. The route selection in the upper grades is also extremely limited. If you're climbing 5.12+ you can just about climb the place out in a single session. The setters clearly spend their time focusing on the bouldering and mainly put up easier routes. With a quick count, I only saw something like 10 routes harder than 5.10. Disappointing.

On a positive note, they're currently making improvements to the gym. A bunch of the top rope walls have been recently repainted and look much better. There's also some new insulation going up and the air conditioning seems to be a bit improved so that's a step in the right direction. Finally, there's a pretty good scene in the gym on weeknights. There's even the obligatory guy campusing with a weight vest.

The overhang and my personal favorite bouldering wall in the gym.
No more of the caves and tunnels please, just put up a 20° overhang.
In the end, the GRG doesn't really compare to any of the gyms in Boulder (yeah Spot Gym!), but it gets the job done. There seem to be good people and psyched climbers and if the management keeps making improvements it can only get better.

UPDATE (July, 10th, 2012): Having been in Gainesville for a bit more than a year now, I thought I'd update a few things about this post. First off, I was apparently given wrong information about becoming lead certified. If you know how to lead already, you can just take the lead test, but only certain staff can administer the test so if on of them is not there, you're S.O.L. The roped climbing continues to disappoint and the bouldering is mostly decent. The biggest problem is the slow turnover of new problems. Problems typically stay up for several months with few new ones set in the mean time. On the plus side, there is a good group of friendly regular boulderers in the 20-30 age range that's fun to hang out with.


  1. You should see if you can help with the improvements. Moving to FL from Boulder has got to be quite a shock... glad there's a gym climb in at least!

  2. I may try to do that later in the summer, not much free time at the moment though. Definitely missing Boulder.

  3. Hey Doug, glad I found a legit review of this place. Im moving to Gainesville in August from San Francisco for a masters law program and ive also been spoiled by the gym quality in the bay area. I realize these posts are a solid year old, but if you still check this sucker and are in need of a solid lead/tope rope belay partner give me a shout and we can meet up for a climb.

    -Trevor Q.