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Indoor rock climbing offers alternate winter recreation

For those who seek new ways to beat the winter doldrums and are tired of the same old gym routine, Duluth boasts a unique alternative: rock climbing.

For those who seek new ways to beat the winter doldrums and are tired of the same old gym routine, Duluth boasts a unique alternative: rock climbing.

The cold winter months keep even the hardiest climbers from the North Shore's natural rock climbing, so climbers look to Duluth's two indoor climbing gyms: UMD and Vertical Endeavors.

Matt Potter, UMD student and an avid climber who works at VE, said that climbing indoors in the winter months "helps get a jump on summer [climbing]."

While experienced climbers use the facilities to practice for warmer weather's outdoor climbing, beginners can experience real climbing first-hand in a safe, controlled environment.

The UMD Indoor Climbing Center has 15 roped climbing routes up to 35 feet high, realistic crack systems and a bouldering cave. All sessions include instruction from the experienced staff.

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Kaija Webster, who works for UMD's Outdoor Program, said that "the staff consider themselves instructors. They are there to teach people."

"I love teaching people what I love to do," said Lacey Frost, an instructor at UMD's wall who has been climbing for about three years. "The unique thing about this wall is that it has actual molds of climbs from the North Shore."

It also boasts "natural rock from around the area, like Carlton Peak," said Frost, who added that she enjoys outdoor climbing more than indoor.

UMD wall employees are fully trained to help beginners stay safe and help veterans improve their technique.

"The main difference between us and VE us that the staff are involved," said Frost. "We are educators, teaching more hands on. We're right there the whole time."

There is a possibility of more climbing space in the new Sports and Health facility, which will be possible, said Webster, if there is extra money in the budget.

"The exciting thing about it is that it would have lead climbing, which we don't have now," she added.

The current wall offers about 2000 square feet of climbing surface and was built in 1988 by the North Shore Climbers, an on-campus climbing group. The 700-square-foot bouldering cave was added in 2001.

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Vertical Endeavors, on the other hand, offers 12,000 square feet of climbing surface up to 42 feet high, about 50 top-roped courses, lead climbing courses and a hand-carved cliff with a lighthouse. Safety features include six inches of shredded tires to cushion climbers in case of a fall.

The facility also offers 12 Auto Belays, which are unique hydraulic systems that allow climbers to climb independently and safely without a partner. There are also several cracks and a large bouldering area.

"The cracks here are pretty much unheard of in inside climbing," said Potter, who has worked at VE since its opening in July 2001. As for the walls, "most other places use plywood with [plastic] holds. We are one of the only with cement."

"One of the coolest things [about working here] is the classes, teaching people about climbing," said Potter.

"We'll teach pretty much anything that people want to learn," said Potter, who most often teaches basic classes to beginners.

Halee Lundquist, who has worked at VE for one and half years, said that employees are "in charge of safety, first and foremost. We also interact with customers."

She added that staff will aid climbers and offer suggestions on routes if asked.

Vertical Endeavors offers climbing hours Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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The $11 weekday fee buys time on the wall, but equipment is not included, which makes VE more suitable to climbers who own equipment. Rental packages are available for $10, or climbers can pay per climb, starting at $4.

For more information on available classes and specialty rates - like Half Price Mondays or Ladies' Night on Fridays - call VE at (218) 279-9980 or stop by the wall located inside Carnival Thrillz, 329 South Lake Avenue.

The UMD wall has open climbing hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays are half price nights.

The daily $5 session pass includes all required equipment: harnesses, belay devices, carabiners and helmets. Climbing shoes are not required but can be rented for $2.

For more information on purchasing passes or upcoming events and classes, call UMD at (218) 726-6257 or stop by the wall located adjacent to the ice rink in the Sports and Health Center on the UMD campus.

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