Rock Climbing in RI

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The Rock Spot brings vertical exercise to Rhode Island

As I drive south along Route 1 headed toward Narragansett, I realize something about South County. It might as well be Alabama. Farms stretch as far as the eye can see, and signs advertising farm goods line the roadsides. Here, it’s Rhody Fresh milk; there, it’s pick your own blueberries. And while I love both Rhody Fresh Milk and blueberries, that is not why I made the 40-minute drive south from Providence. Not today. I am here for one thing only – one of the world’s fastest growing sports: rock climbing. I am in search of one of Rhode Island’s newest and sleekest-looking rock gyms: Rock Spot’s Peace Dale location in South Kingston.

After struggling to find the building by circling the streets of Peace Dale, I eventually found the parking lot. Now, if you have never been to that area, let me just tell you this: the winding streets of Peace Dale are far less confusing than the parking lot organization. While the car path is ultimately circular in shape, it crosses over wooden bridges and winds between buildings with directions provided by signs posted on building walls. More than once, I made a wrong turn. After finding perhaps the most remote location in all of Rhode Island, I turned the corner at the farthest reaches of the parking lot and stumbled across Rock Spot. As my wonderful host Kat told me, since rock gyms need excessively high ceilings, if a gym is easy to find, there is probably something wrong with the neighborhood. Anyway. Back to the important stuff.

From the outside, the building looks pretty much like every other public building in Rhode Island – an old factory that has been reconstituted as something else. If there is one thing that can be said about Rhode Island’s past as an industrial power, it is that those buildings are easily converted for modern usages. The downside is getting rid of some of the remnants of industry. Kat told me that the gym’s grand opening was delayed several weeks because of an unnecessary crane positioned on the roof of the building that had to be removed. Once all was said and done, the newest Rock Spot opened with a bang. During a black light climb on opening day, there was a DJ spinnin’ tunes (oh God that was corny), black light tattoos, a fabulous wheel of prizes, a climbing shoe demo, and even costumes. Lucky costumed guests were also recipients of reverse trick-or-treating, as Kat calls it, as the gym handed out climbing-oriented prizes for good costumes.

When I walked inside, I noticed the sheer size of the wall – 40 feet tall, and covering (probably) 125 feet of horizontal space. From the standard vertical wall to the more than vertical section for advanced climbers to the harness-free bouldering section, Rock Spot provides something for climbers of all ability levels. The wall even provides a great deal of entertainment as you come across holds of some of the most random things imaginable. Imagine climbing a wall and reaching up to find a creepy-looking baby head complete with goatee and sideburns penned on by one of the employees, or a telephone – it is quite disorienting, to say the least.

One of the coolest things about Rock Spot is that they frequently update and change the layout of the walls. Every 4 to 6 weeks, at all three of their locations – Boston, Lincoln, and South Kingston, employees shut down the entire building for three days, strip the walls of course markings, and wash and re-arrange the holds. The result is that once a month, you can get an entirely different climbing experience. From courses designed for beginners (myself included) to courses for the highly experienced, one thing is easily apparent: the size of the hold does not necessarily make for a harder climb. It really comes down to the individual – people with small hands might like using small “crimp” holds, others thrive using larger “slopers.” Difficulty ultimately comes from hold spacing and the type of holds. For example, I have large hands – I like larger holds, and can hardly grip any hold that is smaller than a half dollar. And yet, someone with small hands might thrive while climbing using only small holds. I suppose there is something to be said about route selection, though, climbing alone, I really just made it up as I scaled higher. It also helped knowing that the auto-belay was always there to catch me should I lose my grip and fall.

With transferable memberships and day passes accepted at all three locations, a particularly energetic person might be able to climb at all three locations in a single day – provided his or her grip strength held out long enough. Memberships are run on a variety of options from a year pass for just $1 per day, to as high as $60 a month. It really benefits patrons to get a longer membership because the longer the membership, the better the deal gets.

As for my climbing experience, I will leave it at this: there is something very humbling for a generally athletic guy like me to struggle up the 40-foot vertical wall designed for beginners next to a 7-year-old girl not only climbing a harder wall, but doing it much faster and more skillfully.

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