WILLSBORO — “On belay ... climb when ready,” said Mark Scott, giving slack to a rope that stretched down from the ceiling and hooked on to a snug-fitting harness around my waist.
“OK, climbing,” I said. Staring up at a 22-foot wall studded with multi-colored plaster holds, I reached up, curling my fingers around the most appealing one and began my assent.
The indoor climbing wall is one of many at The Crux, Champlain Valley Climbing Center, which opened in December. The building stands tall, nestled among a patch of pine trees next to the Poke-O-MacCready Summer Camp, down a winding dirt road near Interstate 87 in Willsboro.
“It’s really a great addition to the area,” said Scott, director of The Crux. “We’ve had a great response from the community and surrounding areas so far.”
The building is exactly 39 feet high to comply with Adirondack Park Agency regulations that limit the height of free-standing structures. Even still, The Crux is home to a 40-foot climbing wall, built from the basement up — the highest indoor wall in the Adirondacks.
According to Scott, indoor climbing is a perfect way for those just starting out to get a feel for the sport before heading to steep outdoor cliffs, ledges and overhangs. As an amateur climber with a heroic fear of heights, I can agree.
“It’s a much more controlled environment,” Scott said, looking up at the forty foot wall. “People learn quicker and develop skills at a faster rate when they can dig in on an indoor wall.”
Scott, a native of Reber, started climbing when he was just 10 years old. Since then he has climbed in New Zealand, Peru, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and throughout the Northeast. In 2009 he became a certified Single Pitch Instructor by the American Mountain Guides Association.
“Getting the certification and going to classes really helped solidify a lot of skills,” Scott said. “It’s helped me focus on how to give people the best instruction I can — and help people get rid of bad habits they’ve developed.”
After I managed to successfully scramble up the climbing wall, Scott told me it would be to my advantage not to wear jeans the next time.
As Paul Simon’s Graceland clicked on a surround-sound system and echoed around the tall walls, Scott gave me a tour of the new facility, starting with a dark cave-like section of the basement devoted to bouldering — a type of climbing typically done without ropes. Six inches of padding cover the floor to reassure climbers and break falls from overhanging climbing holds.
“This is the play area,” Scott said. “It’s a great place to work on strength and agility.”
The Crux houses seven separate climbing walls, with 17 anchors and more than 3,200 square feet of climbing. A staircase off of the main floor leads to a 20 foot repelling wall, and another climbing area with stark ridges and overhangs — the black diamond section of the rock gym.
According to Scott, indoor climbing is a perfect way for seasoned climbers to work on their skills, especially when outdoor climbing isn’t an option.
“Weather and conditions always vary,” Scott said. “Around this time of year, there’s a lot slick rocks. Some days in the winter are too cold and at some points in the summer the black flies will get to you.”
The center is named after a climbing phrase, which in no uncertain terms refers to the most difficult part a climb. Looking up at the walls, certain features looked nearly impossible to climb over and the most difficult part of any climb is well represented at The Crux.
“We have a really nice variety here,” Scott said. “It’s a great place to come and learn, practice or just have a good time.”
More climbing in
According to Sharp Swan, director of the Poke-O-MacCredy Camp, the idea to provide a more comprehensive climbing program initially came about in the mid-1990s.
“It started as an attraction for the summer camp,” Swan said. “But it has really evolved over the years into something much bigger.”
Swan said The Crux offers a link between the camp and community that never really existed before.
“We’ve been really successful in bringing in local school groups, college groups and residents of the area,” Swan said, adding that director Mark Scott has played a integral role in community outreach. “Mark has been a huge help in running the Crux successfully. He’s a local guy, grew up right down the street, and he’s been working hard to get people in the area interested.”
The outside of The Crux is unfinished, covered partially by brown siding, the rest an exposed cover of green insulation. In the next year, according to Swan, the center plans to build additional climbing walls on the outside of the tall structure.
“It’s going to make this a really unique facility,” Swan said. “Things are going better than I ever anticipated. And we’re excited about the future.”
High Peaks Climbery
The only other indoor climbing center in the Adirondacks is right here in Lake Placid, in a back room at the High Peaks Cyclery. The Cyclery’s climbing room, also known as the High Peaks Climbery, offers more than 2,000 square feet of climbing space, with a wide variety of features for climbers to practice or beginners to learns.
According to service manager Bruce Shilstone, the indoor wall gets a lot of use from a regular group of climbers, but doesn’t seem to be too well known to visitors. He spoke of the advantages indoor climbing can provide.
“It really helps out with cabin fever,” Shilstone said.
Holds along the climbing walls are marked with colored pieces of tape to indicate different routes up to the ceiling.
“People go up and use the least amount of holds they possibly can, and then mark what they did,” Shilstone said. “It’s mostly bragging rights. The neat thing about indoor climbing is that it frees you up to try pretty much anything.”
Bruce Shilstone demonstrates some advanced maneuvers on an indoor climbing wall at the High Peaks Climbery in Lake Placid.
Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News