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Juneau couples’ garage doubles as climbing wall

Posted: July 28, 2012 - 9:53pm  |  Updated: July 28, 2012 - 9:58pm
In this June 21, 2012 photo, Charlee Gribbon works through a problem on one of the walls in her home climbing gym in Juneau. With winter preventing outdoor climbing, and the interest of having her passion accessible, Gribbon's solution was to build a climbing wall in her house.   AP Photo/Capital City Weekly, Amanda Compton
AP Photo/Capital City Weekly, Amanda Compton
In this June 21, 2012 photo, Charlee Gribbon works through a problem on one of the walls in her home climbing gym in Juneau. With winter preventing outdoor climbing, and the interest of having her passion accessible, Gribbon's solution was to build a climbing wall in her house.

JUNEAU (AP) — Writing a thesis, completing a crossword puzzle, configuring the ultimate setup for a home recycling center - the lure and excitement of getting it done keeps challenges we choose to attempt to conquer a revolving door. For some, adding a physical component to our endeavors is both addicting and cathartic.

Juneau resident Charlee Gribbon chooses to appease her thirst for physical activity and challenges through climbing. Specifically, Gribbon pursues the subgenre of bouldering, a type of climbing that doesn’t require much gear beyond shoes and crash pads.

“Part of the allure, and what pleases and keeps people so interested in bouldering is the aspect of figuring out a problem,” Gribbon said. The “problem” that Gribbon refers to is the series of moves required to finish a specific route.

The climbing scene around Juneau is still taking off. New boulders and rock faces adequate for climbing are in a constant state of discovery. With winter preventing outdoor climbing, and the interest of having her passion accessible, Gribbon’s solution was to build a climbing wall in her house.

Gribbon and her partner, also an avid climber, purchased a home in the Mendenhall Valley a few years ago. Their main specification in their house hunting process was a two-car garage.

“Basically that’s all we had in mind,” Gribbon said. The couple found a house, which Gribbon describes as “A penthouse apartment above a garage. It’s perfect.” They signed the paper work on Earth Day of 2010.

Since then, they have developed a majority of the walls and part of the ceiling of their garage into a haven for indoor bouldering. And they can still pull a car in.

Gribbon and her partner have experience building indoor walls. They started collecting holds in 2004, when they built their first wall in a garage in Anchorage. When they later moved to Juneau, they built one in their first rental. When they were working on the garage of their current house, they realized how much they had lucked out. The house had been built by a contractor, and their garage was sturdier than average.

“These walls are sheet rock then plywood then metal studs then plywood and then sheet rock, wrapped in insulation,” Gribbon said. “There were no studs to find, but you could drill anywhere.” Additionally, the ceiling was constructed with I-beams; something Gribbon said is usually only used in industrial buildings.

“It made it harder to find where (we) could drill, but gives it structural integrity,” she said. There’s also no middle beam or supporting wall in their garage, opening up the space they had to work with.

Their first fall in the new house they began constructing a 12 foot by 12 foot wall with a 45-50 degree overhang that runs from floor to ceiling, using sections of 8-foot by 4-foot plywood. The following year they built a wall on the opposing side of the garage at a 15 degree angle. They now also have a vertical climbing wall against the back of their garage in addition to a ceiling wall. Along the way, they began constructing carefully planned routes. She explained that one of the fun parts of constructing a home gym is the selection of routes. It’s like a blank canvas.

“Is like a brain tease,” Gribbon said. “It’s like paint for an artist, you need all these different features and textures and different kinds of holds.”

Gribbon sat on her garage floor, entirely covered with crash pads, pointing out different routes.

“If you look at my wall, it’s just a bunch of random (colored holds),” said Gribbon. She explained that each color is a separate route.

“As a route setter you try and force a move that you can only get to by holding a certain type of body position,” she said. “As someone who’s put up the routes and liked them, it’s kind of like art, how would someone else interpret my route?”

One of the enticing challenges she finds comes from watching others climb.

“You see a move somebody does, and you want to create it in your gym. You can learn a lot by watching other people do things,” Gribbon said. “You can mimic people move.”

She estimates that they have about 840 holds drilled into their walls, with an additional 400 in storage containers and shelves waiting for a home. She said that the desired amount of holds per 8 by 4 foot section of plywood is 100.

Though a positive aspect of bouldering — opposed to other climbing — is that one can work alone, without a partner. Gribbon said that a lot of her climbing requires a team mentality, encouraging climbing partners through problems and being happy for them when they’re triumphant. She learned the importance of this lesson after a hamstring injury while on a climbing trip in the Kenai Peninsula.

“I was coming home from work, injured,” Gribbon said. “If your partner isn’t psyched, it’s hard to stay excited. He’d get super excited and I just wasn’t there.”

That can be a buzz kill she said. But the situation became a positive experience, as they learned how to address and work through it. Gribbon’s partner built what he calls the “$200 route,” as it’s comprised of eight $25 holds. He designed a route that would allow Gribbon to continue to climb and keep her good leg strong, simultaneously providing a smaller challenge for her injured leg.

“I could slowly work up to engaging that muscle, not blowing it, and get some strength there,” she said.

There is a level of dedication required to simply be strong enough to continue to grow as a climber.

“It’s hard; it takes a long time to develop the endurance and the technique to make moves efficient,” Gribbon said. “Some people have natural ability where they get that positive feedback; others it takes more work.”

Having an indoor bouldering gym is a luxury that Gribbon and her partner recognize, and one they’d like to extend.

“Getting people over here was always our goal,” she said. “It’s taken awhile to get good routes in the walls and have enough of a finished product to have enough routes to keep people interested.”

The couple also hasn’t lost sight about why they spend so much time inside a garage.

“It’s never the highlight of climbing, it’s just to get a work out in,” Gribbon said, in order to keep strong for outdoor climbing. “You definitely get a work out. You’re not standing around waiting for someone else to climb.”

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