By KURT SPURLOCK
As soon as you walk into Escalade Rock Climbing Gym you know you have stumbled onto something special. If the ancient-looking brass bell fastened to the front door does not tip you off that the gym is a little different, the feeling will most certainly hit you as you pass from the fairly small front desk and equipment room into the massive two-story climbing chamber.
On my first visit to Escalade, I could not quite place what it was that really made the gym so appealing. By my third visit, I could see why the sport had such a devout following, and it had become obvious why so many people choose Escalade as their gym of choice.
It certainly is not the largest gym in the Atlanta area, or, for that matter, the most complex, most technical, or most renowned. No, what Escalade offers is something much greater ― a strong sense of community, enthusiasm, and mutual love for rock climbing shared by all those who attend.
“You just don’t see a lot of ego here. Everyone gets to know everyone, everyone pitches in. Seasoned climbers are helping new climbers improve. It’s a very genuine, real sense of welcoming,” said Nathan Steele, the head route setter for the gym.
Judgement Free Environment
A lot of gyms like to claim a community atmosphere, a “judgment free” environment, but if you want to witness the real deal, come out to Escalade just about any day of the week. Every time I visited the facility, there was someone being led on their first tour of the gym by a staff member. You can easily spot these people by the look of childish enthusiasm and wonder on their faces as they gaze upward at the colorful walls and bright fixtures that cover nearly every angle of the room. Within a few hours, you can bet on a new climber to have met a new friend, and in all probability, learned more than they would have ever expected to on their first outing.
And it’s no wonder – Escalade really does seem to have built the perfect playground for all ages. From the children’s downstairs climbing castle, complete with simple rock walls, a tube slide, and a set of monkey bars, to the expert-only area on the second story, open only to climbers 16 years and older. There’s no shortage of facilities to hone your skills as you grow with the sport.
“There is a really unique and inviting culture that sets Escalade apart from other gyms, which often come off as kind of exclusive. Here, you don’t have to be really good at climbing to make friends,” said Arvin Ross, a new customer to Escalade. “The staff members work to create events and programs that make the gym special.”
Something for Everyone
Of those events, the most popular has got to be “Climb Time Weekends,” an event held Saturdays and Sundays from 12 a.m. until 6 p.m. every week. Climb Time is designed for climbers of all skill sets, including those who are interested but have yet to give climbing a try.
Twenty dollars buys up to six straight hours of climbing for one attendee, and all customers are encouraged to make use of the staff guides on hand to help instruct and support climbers as well as the inexpensive equipment rentals.
Solo climbers and large groups are all encouraged to attend, and those without gear can rent everything from shoes to harnesses to belay devices for under $5 each.
College Night is another popular event, held for students of Kennesaw State University on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ladies climb for the entire night for just $8, and men are also given a discounted admission of $10 with the presentation of a valid student id.
Escalade even offers to host scheduled birthday parties for children. Parties from as few as five climbers to as many as 20 or more can be scheduled in two-hour blocks. Children are watched throughout the party by plenty of certified staff members, and are given an hour and a half to take full advantage of the gym as well as a half hour in the “party room” afterward to sit down for cake and gifts. All children attending the party also receive a free day pass to the gym for future use, and the birthday boy or girl even gets a T-shirt to
go with the experience.
Arian Bates, Escalade staff member and head coach for the competitive youth team, says that working with the kids at the gym is the highlight of his day.
“It’s really a great thing to have young kids get involved in. It gives them an alternative activity to team sports that not only gets them exercising, but also provides them with exercises in reasoning when it comes to solving the various problems associated with finding a route to the top,” Bates said.
Bates speaks fondly of his current youth climbing squad, “the A-team.” Between Escalade and its partner gym Adrenalin Climbing, the team has grown to more than 40 members, ages 7-17. Bates tells about watching the kids develop, and speaks with a pride similar to that of a parent referencing his two first-year climbers on their way to a national
championship for their bouldering skills this year.
Both Bates and Steele alike have been staff members at Escalade since it started 12 years ago. Originally located near the intersection of Cobb Parkway and Chastain Road, Escalade was founded by Don Sierzant and his wife Janet. After a few years, it was decided that the gym would be moved to its current location, around which time it was also sold to family friend and current owner Andy Stratton.
For more information on Escalade Rock Climbing Gym visit its website, www.escaladegym.com, contact by phone at 770-794-1575, or even check out its
Facebook page. Gym hours are 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, Saturdays 11 a.m. to
10 p.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.