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Why I Quit Planet Granite

Last night was my final night as a member of Planet Granite, aka, Portland, Oregon’s latest “fad” climbing gym. Located in The Pearl, PG not only offers an incredible variety of man-made ‘projects’ for boulderers, top ropers, and lead climbers, but it also includes unlimited yoga classes, fitness classes, and various exercise equipment for its members all for a low *cough cough* fee of $67/month (or $55/month if you’re fortunate enough to have a ‘family’ membership). That is double the cost of an annual pass to Smith Rock and certainly more money than I would spend on a weekend climbing trip to that beloved place.

But, the price wasn’t why I ultimately decided to leave. I mean, it definitely factored into the equation given that the climbing trip to Greece I have planned for this fall will nearly wipe out the entirety my savings (worth it). Having the opportunity to train in what could be classified as a “State of the Art” training facility wasn’t something I wanted to give up without careful consideration and it took me several months to finally cut the umbilical cord. A series of back and forth, deliberating, and probably eye-crossing conversations with my partner/’family’ member, Andy, were drawn out until a decision needed to be made- and that decision was to quit. The funny thing was that even after so much time had passed processing the pros and cons, my choice was made on what seemed like a whim after I expressed to Andy that I genuinely missed having friends at the climbing gym.

Prior to joining PG, my experiences with gym climbing had primarily been in the realm of University climbing and at a local, climber-run, climber-owned gym in the Portland area called Stoneworks. In contrast to their new, shiny, corporate competitor, this gym contains actual climbers, not just Portland’s wealthy elite looking to get in a good workout while showcasing their latest outfit from Lulu and their new manicure. My friends worked at these other gyms; the staff who I didn’t climb with or know outside of the gym setting knew who I was and discussed my current projects and how much (or how little, in some cases) progress I had made toward finally achieving the epic SEND! I am friends with these climbers- I have climbed with them at Smith, at the Gardens, at French’s; I had problems and routes set for me by the staff at the Oregon State gym based on my preferred style of climbing; I was taught how to lead by my friends at the University of Oregon gym.Ultimately, because of these people, I developed a drive and desire to go to those places.

Did I care whether I went to PG?

Hell no.

In fact, this was highly problematic because, aside from a few tiny leaps and bounds in improving my climbing ability, the amount of time and effort I put into training at PG had little payoff. I made more progress traversing the 200+ move traverse at Stoneworks twice a week last fall than I did during the entire 6 months I was a member at Planet Granite. And I had to drag myself to the gym… to CLIMB!

Cue the… “emotional support” piece. I never felt valued at PG.

And that’s true, I definitely rely emotionally on my climbing partners and my climbing environment for support. Rock Climbing has been, and probably always be, a scary sport for me- it doesn’t seem to matter how much climbing I’m doing, I still get waves of anxiety when I tie into the sharp end or leave the ground gettin’ after a particularly spicy boulder problem. So, I need to climb in an environment with people who make me feel not only supported and rad (and can identify me by name), but who also make me feel safe. No State of the Art gym is going to help me feel any better about any of the above unless it’s filled with all of the above. But that’s just my own neuroses kicking in… on to Reason #2:

The climbing movement has gotten out of control. Everybody and their grandma is climbing now thanks to a random sports writer at the NY Times who caught wind of what was going on at the Dawn Wall and convinced his publishers to run the story.

I’m totally psyched for Tommy and Kevin, and for climbing in general since it is finally getting the recognition it deserves. The issue is that now everyone wants to climb and they want to at least try to climb outside- on actual rock- in nature. And nature is getting the shit beat out of it as a result and the climbers who are respectful not only of each other but also of the crags we hold so dear, are suffering as a result. I may be turning into a mega-ultra-horrendous BITCH of a person in recent months, but if I have to ask one more person to stay ON the goddamn trail, to pick up the week’s worth of gear they have strewn about at the base of the pitch they’re gang-banging, or to clean up their dog’s (or their own- let’s be honest) poop, I am going to freak out.

And it’s not entirely the fault of these newbie climbers. A big part of the issue is a lack of mentorship. Climbing gyms such as PG only offer so much assistance to their climbers and after witnessing some of the most terrifying outdoor lead climbing instruction I’ve ever encountered occur at the hands of some of their ‘instructors,’ I’ve come to realize that the mentorship needed for baby climbers is not being found within the realm of corporate climbing gyms- whether or not that’s because caring falls outside of their pay grade or because they, themselves, don’t have any ethics is a discussion best saved for another post. All of this leads to a snowballing effect of bad habits as ill-informed, barely-safe climbers get brave enough to start bringing their friends to the crag and gift them with their poor, noisy, unsafe, and disrespectful practices… and so on and so forth. And they don’t really seem to care. The feeling I get whenever I walk into a gym like PG is the “hey, thanks for giving us your money, we’ll go set some new routes for you and raffle off some free gear occasionally.” I never see signs offering discussions on Leave No Trace, or encouraging people to join the Access Fund or the American Alpine Club. I do, however, see vibrantly colored ads offering the latest line of gear, because how else can someone learn how to climb then by purchasing Top of the Line equipment?

Smaller gyms offer community to their climbers and they offer a support system (and safe belay partner system) for anyone who walks in their doors. They offer friendships and “hey, I know your name and how long you’ve been climbing and what color your tent is and what you’re projecting,” and that’s a really cool feeling. In fact, it’s a feeling worth quitting State of the Art for and it’s certainly worth driving an extra 5 minutes and saving $20/month to find.


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