Olympia Teens Climb To Great Heights

olympia indoor climbing
Elijah Welch, a 17-year-old student at Olympia High School, tackles the bouldering wall at the Warehouse Rock Gym.


By Sara Hollar, Olympia High School intern to ThurstonTalk

olympia indoor climbing
Elijah Welch, a 17-year-old student at Olympia High School, tackles the bouldering wall at the Warehouse Rock Gym.

Teenagers have a lot of pressure and obligation in their lives. It can be hard to find gratifying and exciting experiences so local teens turn to the Warehouse Rock Gym.  Located in downtown Olympia, the gym is filled with rock climbing equipment just waiting for climbers. The gym’s goal is to cultivate a love of climbing and provide a great community space.  Rock climbing can offer  so much for Thurston County teens.

“I like rock climbing because it’s fun, it gets me active and I can do it with my friends. It’s a good way to challenge yourself. Skills like knowing your limits are important also,” says Alex Hougan, a sophomore at Olympia High School. Hougan likes to go with a group of friends and introduce new people to the gym.  For him, rock climbing is a social activity. He goes to connect and build trust. Having people that share his hobby makes climbing worthwhile for him.

While great for all ages, teenagers can really benefit from climbing. On Saturday nights, from 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm, a half-price pass fits a student’s budget. Equipment like climbing shoes, harnesses, chalk bags and safety devices are all available to rent too. With competent professionals watching and helping in the gym it’s not necessary for parents to stick around, which can be a big plus, although climbing is a great family activity though too.

A wall of the Warehouse Rock Gym is devoted to bouldering, which is climbing without a rope. Bouldering doesn’t require any instruction and can be done solo. Those bouldering can pick between different routes on the wall depending on their difficulty but must remain under 14 feet off the ground. Safety equipment includes padded flooring and crash pads. Bouldering is a great way to get a feel for climbing and work on improving your skills.

olympia indoor climbing
13-year-old Forest Poplack climbs higher with the assistance of a belayer.

Top roping is also available at the gym. Top roping includes a climber and a belayer. The climber wears a harness attached to one of the end of the rope while the belayer, a person standing on the ground, holds the other. Belaying might be an unfamiliar term for those unacquainted with the rock climbing world but it’s quite simple.

A belayer’s job is to keep the climber safe. Since top roping goes to heights above 14 feet, it is important to have a safety device if the climber falls. The belayer takes up the slack on the rope while their partner climbs. When finished, the belayer lowers the climber to the ground in a controlled fashion.

The Warehouse Rock Gym allows people 13 years old and up to be belayers but requires that they take a lesson on belaying from a certified employee. Top roping is a fun and intense workout and belaying provides valuable lessons in trust and responsibility.

Ben Matthews, another sophomore at Olympia climbs frequently and loves it. “Rock climbing is a valuable experience for teens because it provides someone with a hobby,” he says. Both Ben and Alex are swimmers but they know the importance of branching away from their sport and trying something new. And while it’s fun, climbing is a great way to get moving.

Pick a route based on the level of difficulty. Different climbers pick varying routes in order to enjoy climbing at their own pace and comfort level. Some enjoy it as a casual activity but others really get hooked. Climbers who’ve liked their experience at Warehouse Rock Gym go on to climb outside on the big rocks or joining climbing teams. Rock climbing can set teens up with a fun pastime for a life.

olympia indoor climbing
Hannah Petersen, 19, climbs on the bouldering wall at the indoor Warehouse Rock Gym in Olympia.

Marlene Sawhill thinks of rock climbing as a great way to relax from her busy life as a sophomore at Olympia High School. “Rock climbing is a fun activity that’s different than a regular sport,” she says. Sawhill is a varsity soccer player but enjoys that climbing forces her out of her comfort zone. It gives her a chance to use skills such as agility and awareness and improve her athletic abilities.

Marlene shares her ideas on why rock climbing can be a rewarding for teenagers. “It lets you try new things that may not have thought you’d enjoy.” She was introduced to the gym by her dad and now likes taking her friends.

Rock climbing is a great way for teenagers to develop new skills, build and strengthen relationships, and try different activities. By getting active and trying new experiences they grow as athletes and people. Climbing is a passion teens can pursue for the rest of their lives.


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