Rock on, Victoria! Crag X gives climbing a boost in YYJ

Sports Sports | Lifestyle
Photo provided by Silva Erglis
Photo provided by Silva Erglis

As often happens on a campus with a higher girl-to-guy ratio, UVic student Megan Bingham has turned to the fertile fields of Tinder to reap a relationship. As she swipes her way through the notorious “dating” app, all I hear is: “How the hell does everyone know how to climb all of a sudden?”

With indoor climbing considered one of the fastest growing sports in North America, it’s no wonder Bingham has noticed more and more UVic students bitten by the climbing bug.

Milah Smith teaches climbing, sets up climbing holds, and works the front desk at local climbing gym Crag X. “There’s definitely a lot of young people in the sport, especially university age,” she says. “I definitely have noticed there’s a lot more beginners coming into the sport. I know our membership has definitely increased since I worked at Crag X, [and] our consistent members have increased every year.”

The steady increase of participation is what inspired the owners to close down their 20-year-old gym on Johnson Street and open up a brand-new gym right in the heart of downtown Victoria.

“I really feel that it’s almost like some sort of urban oasis where climbers go. So it’s really like this place you can go and connect with your community and climb and still develop your skills. I just think it’s really a community hang out. It’s just great [having] so many people coming together in one spot so it just has a great vibe, super-high energy.”

Photo provided by Silva Erglis
Photo provided by Silva Erglis

After almost a year of construction, Crag X finally opened the doors of their new location at 769 Pandora Ave. on Dec. 1.

The new building features higher walls, better terrain, a crack climbing wall, lead-climbing along with top-rope, a bouldering section, training equipment, clean air, and natural light, all at a convenient location.

UVic Outdoors Club co-president Kyla Schenk is one of those eagerly awaiting the opening of the new gym. “Crag X has always been my favourite! [It] has always been a really good combination of students and community members, and maybe that’s why I felt that they have a great community there. There is a mix and a good variety of folks that you can meet there, [from people] learning to climb all the way through to serious climbers.”

Climbers have the reputation of being adventure-seeking daredevils who riskily satisfy their vertical addictions. Climbing celebrities like Lynn Hill, Alex Honnold and Chris Sharma come to mind,  their insanely ripped bodies pumping up sleek-looking rock faces, ropes optional. But don’t let their technical lingo and chalk-covered faces scare you away.

“Everyone who’s here is excited that you’re trying it out, and nobody cares how good you are. It’s just about how much fun you’re having!” says Smith. “It’s just this great environment of excitement and people just supporting each other.”

Schenk agrees. “A big part of the community is a willingness to help out and get people out there. I found that if I ever have a problem with one of the routes or something like that, the people who work at Crag X and climb at Crag X are always happy to jump in and help figure out a route.”

Crag X runs a “taste test” and beginner lessons at the gym and the Outdoors Club. Members love to take on new climbers at their weekly club climbing night at CARSA for those seeking to get more involved in the sport.

“We try to get people to try it out and give it a go in an environment that I think a lot of people perceive as safer,” says Schenk.

Climbing can be an intimidating sport. High walls and the flimsy-looking ropes can be a serious deterrent to any beginning climber. If you’re unsure, Smith and Schenk have some advice.

“To be honest, climbing has taught me so much about life and about so many aspects of life, like how to have self confidence, to how to face fears, to how to be in the moment to how to push your limits,” says Smith.

“Just try to push your boundaries,” says Schenk. “It’s a good way to try something different if you’ve never done it before and it’s a fun way to stay active. Climbing has definitely helped me push myself further and face those fears a bit. I think it makes anyone a stronger person to push themselves and see what the can do.”