New climbing gym opens in downtown with 16-foot walls, high-tech systems and an occasional need for a trusted partner

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Employee Jade Haney, on the wall, and general manager DeAnna Mylander demonstrate how the belay system of climbing works at Climb Lawrence.

Imagine this scenario: You’re on a first date, and as part of the evening’s entertainment you are nearly 20 feet in the air. How fast you come back to earth is determined by your partner, who is on the ground holding a rope attached to you. It might bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “left hanging.” It certainly is bringing a new type of entertainment to downtown Lawrence.

Climb Lawrence has opened near Seventh and Vermont streets, in space across the street from the Lawrence Public Library. It is the city’s first commercial climbing gym. I’ve written about the project a couple of times, first in January 2020 and then again in July, when the project became more certain. Perhaps you remember the article about the potential for a new 47-foot tower being added to the downtown skyline.

That big tower hasn’t been built yet, but that hasn’t stopped people from having big fun since Climb Lawrence opened a few weeks ago, general manager DeAnna Mylander said.

“We’ve had people from 5 years old to 60 years old or more come in here,” Mylander said. “We’re pretty pleased with it so far.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/

Climb Lawrence has opened in the former warehouse space at 714 Vermont St. in downtown Lawrence.

The business is located at 714 Vermont St. A portion of that building used to house the Local Burger restaurant years ago, but for years the building mainly has served as a warehouse and shop space for various construction businesses.

Now, the main item built inside the space is courage. There are multiple climbing courses and challenges inside the more-than-8,000-square-foot building. But they all lead to similar attributes, said Mylander, who has been an avid climber for more than a decade.

“You get so strong from it and you get so brave from it,” Mylander said.

Yes, you may have to overcome some apprehensions, especially if you aren’t a fan of heights. Most of the climbing walls in the facility are a minimum of 16 feet tall. Some of the climbing challenges require you to be strapped in a harness attached to a rope. Others require no ropes at all. All of the walls have a padded floor — usually about a foot thick — at their base. You’ll also get some good advice on how to fall, because, as Mylander has said, falling is “part of the sport.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Jade Haney, an employee at Climb Lawrence, takes a fall while climbing on a boulder climbing wall at the new downtown Lawrence climbing gym.

The rope-free climbing part of the course is called bouldering. The completely vertical wall has various man-made handholds and footholds that you can use to pull and push your way to the top. The holds are color-coded, so you theoretically can picture your path up the wall. Different colors also signify different levels of difficulty.

A separate part of the facility is used for climbing done with ropes. That system allows you to climb even higher. Some of the rope systems, though, require you to have a partner. That’s called a belay system. One climber puts on a harness and attaches a rope to it. The other climber is on the ground, holding the rope. Thanks to a pulley that is involved in the process, the person on the ground can control how quickly the person on the wall is falling, should he or she lose their grip.

Mylander really did recommend it as a great date night activity. (I don’t know if it would mix with my other traditional date activity — all-you-can-eat buffets.) If that prospect gives you some trepidation, the facility also has several “auto-belay” systems. You still use a harness and rope to climb the wall, but instead of a partner holding the rope, a sophisticated pulley system limits how fast you can fall. In other words, no partner is needed.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Climb Lawrence offers several types of climbing. To the left are ropes used in a partner system of climbing, while to the right is an “auto-belay” system that uses a high tech pulley system that allows a single climber to use a harness and rope system without the assistance of a partner.

If all this sounds a little intense, know that you do have to receive some training to use the belay system. Upon your first time using the ropes, you have to go through an orientation session that could last up to an hour, Mylander said. The other systems in the facility don’t require a mandatory training session, but the staff there gives lots of free orientations and advice on all the climbing types.

“We expect people to come in and not know what they are doing,” Mylander said.

Sometimes, though, your phone can help. Climb Lawrence has one particular type of wall called a Kilter Board. It is a climbing wall 10 to 12 feet tall that is connected to a hinge that allows the wall to be set at various angles. But it also has an electronic component. Using an app on your phone, you can click a few buttons, and various handholds and footholds will light up on the wall, illuminating a path for you. The app creates many different possible paths, each with its own degree of difficulty and a unique name.

“One is called Easy Living,” Mylander said, scrolling through her phone. “Another one is called Tumbleweed.” You don’t have to be Magnum P.I. to know that may be a clue.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Climb Lawrence’s Kilter Board can be tilted at different angles, and also connects to a smart phone to light up different paths for climbers to take up the wall.

The facility also includes a kids climbing area, a fitness room with weights and cardio machines, and a classroom where various fitness and yoga sessions are held. People can buy a day pass for about $15 to $20, and equipment rental is available for another $10. The business also offers monthly and annual memberships, and it has deals related to group outings ranging from kids birthday parties to corporate team-building events to bachelor or bachelorette parties, Mylander said.

Look for another addition to the business in April. Plans call for part of the building to house a small cafe, dubbed Highlander Cafe. Mylander said the menu would have items such as panini sandwiches, soups, salads, acai bowls and other items on the fresh and healthy side.

As for the potentially really big addition to the building — a 47-foot-tall tower that would be constructed along Vermont Street — the business is still planning on it. Mylander said the tower — which would allow for really tall climbing structures — is still envisioned as a Phase 2 addition to the business. Depending on how business progresses, the tower could be a 2022 addition, she said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

General manager DeAnna Mylander explains the color coding system — which indicates level of difficulty — on one of the walls at Climb Lawrence.


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