By Leah Jones, Features Editor
University of Missouri-St. Louis climbers who did not have the chance to go to the bouldering competition on November 15 at the Recreation and Wellness Center (RWC) could have gone to the grand opening of a new Upper Limits climbing gym in Chesterfield on Saturday, November 12. The gym held a soft opening for members a few weeks before, but this event introduced the general public to the climbing facility. Local businesses promoted their products in the parking lot, while a man on stilts made balloon hats for both children and adults. The mobile wall, a climbing wall on wheels, jutted into the open air, giving climbers a chance to experience climbing outdoors as well.
The activities and events inside the facility were just as exciting and busy as the events in the parking lot. Liz Hanson, an employee at the new facility said, “I know we did over a hundred within the first hour. We are probably around three or four hundred [now].”
The patrons also had the opportunity to win prizes. “The first hundred people through our door this morning got a ticket and then they were entered into the raffle for a free year membership,” said Hanson.
Henry Cook, another employee, said “For a year membership, it is going to be around $650, so it’s a huge value.”
The new gym features a 14.5 foot-tall bouldering wall. The boulder boasts an open cavern which extends nearly 15 feet back underneath the wall. This means that climbers spend a large portion of these climbs upside-down, before they reach the vertical portion of the wall. This upside-down climbing, known as cave climbing, can be exhausting and requires climbers to use their arms, legs, and core muscles.
Cook pointed out these bouldering routes are also longer than most bouldering routes, requiring an average of 25-30 moves per climb. “You need crazy endurance,” he said.
Owner Chris Schmick agreed and said, “It’s almost like doing a [tall wall] route, but you don’t have to rope up….You get so tired at the end.” Schmick included the unique feature because the space had previously been used as a gymnastics studio. The cavern area used to be a foam pit. “So, I figured we’ll keep the pit and have the climbing wall come out of it,” Schmick explained.
Another unique feature of the new facility is the Wacky Wall. The Wacky Wall caters to both children and the young-at-heart. “There’s not that many of them in the country. It’s kind of a new thing, especially for this area, with all the kids activities in this area…It’s climbing elements, but it’s not your traditional climbing elements,” Schmick said.
The Wacky Wall is housed in its own room away from the bouldering and tall wall. It features a beanstalk, faces that spin, a maze wall, and a game in which climbers move a puck up the wall as they go. Schmick said, “It’s kind of like a climbing challenge course.”
The gym also features a 24-foot tall wall, which climbers strap into harnesses to ascend. Unlike the other Upper Limits locations, however, the Chesterfield location does not give climbers the opportunity to lead climb.
Schmick’s interest in climbing developed when he was stationed in the military. “I was jumping out of planes and repelling and stuff and I was stationed in North Carolina,” he said. During a repelling excursion, he saw some rock climbers. “So instead of jumping down, we started climbing up…and I fell in love with it that day. And that’s all I’ve done ever since then,” Schmick said. “For some people it will change your whole life.”
In Schmick’s case, it changed his life enough to catapult him into a career with Upper Limits. The gym was founded in 1992 and Schmick and his wife purchased the company in 1994. In 1995, they opened the first Upper Limits gym in Bloomington, Illinois. In 2001, they opened another gym in downtown St. Louis, and then in 2011 they opened a location in Maryland Heights. The Chesterfield location is their fourth gym. Schmick said that the location close to other unique attractions such as Sky Zone, as well as the wealthier demographics in the area, made Chesterfield an ideal place to open a new facility.
Many UMSL students climb at the other Upper Limits locations and may try out the new Chesterfield location. “I know we have people coming from UMSL. I know we have people coming from Washington University,” Hanson said. “Rock climbing is really fun even though it is kind of a dangerous sport…[and] It reminds you how out of shape you really are…[but] It’s a really good way to get stress out.”
Both Schmick and Cook also spoke to the community that people form at climbing gyms. Schmick said, “You end up BS’ing with people more than you climb. If you go to a health club or whatever, you don’t really talk to anybody. Nobody is encouraging you to try that move…Where I think with climbing… You strike up a conversation and you get that community going. You have a chance to talk to other people and stuff like that.”
Cook concurred and said, “That’s what drew me to rock climbing in the first place. If I was having trouble, someone would help me out. It was so cool. …I knew once I got a bit more experience, I [have to] apply for a job here.” He added that Upper Limits always has deals for college students.
For UMSL students interested in joining the St. Louis climbing community, visit upperlimits.com