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Reach new heights at Campbell River climbing gym

On The Rocks is the North Island’s largest indoor climbing facility
Ahren Rankin makes his way up one of the bouldering routes at On The Rocks Climbing Gym. (Ronan O’Doherty/ Campbell River Mirror)

On The Rocks Climbing Gym has been a landmark on the corner of Island Highway and Tamarac Street since opening more than 15 years ago.

While the outdoor climbing at places like Crest Creek, and on Quadra Island is terrific, the gym has served as a wonderful gateway for newcomers to the recreational activity, and a solid training ground for the avid rock climbers looking to add to their skill sets.

Ahren Rankin is known to all who frequent the gym. He’s thin and rangy. An introductory handshake shows off his extra-firm grip. He comes across as built-in-a-lab for scaling steep rock walls.

Rankin is also disarmingly friendly. A trait he says is common among the gyms clientele.

“People are pretty encouraging here,” he said.

“With bouldering especially; there’ll often be two-or-three people climbing on the wall in any given area and the rest of the crowd will be sitting on the couch or on those boxes in the middle. Even complete strangers – after just coming in and seeing each other a few times – are very encouraging, and offering words of advice.”

The bouldering section is where gym users scale short routes without the use of a harness. There is a big padded floor below, and some of the problems – another name for routes – look like they are put there for orangutans only.

“The moves tend to be very powerful and gymnastic,” Rankin explains. “As the routes are rarely very long – they might be 15-to 20-feet long; so it’s short intense bursts of physical output.”

In the gyms adjacent room there are 35-foot high walls which require climbers to be affixed to harnesses with ropes. There are 18 top-rope stations with five-to-six routes on each rope.

There are also five auto belay stations, where solo climber can clip themselves in without the help of a climbing partner to hold the other end of the rope.

“You don’t need a belayer, it just follows you up the wall,” Rankin said. “And if you fall off there’s a magnet driven device at the top which then just lowers you back down.”

In addition to the wall climbing and bouldering sections, the gym has a number of advanced training tools, which are very popular with its members.

In one of the corners above the main bouldering area sits a tension board – a programmable climbing wall with LED lights under the holds, on which climbers can choose from 25,000 routes, or create their own problems using a mobile phone or tablet app.

Nearby is a campus board, which is used by climbers looking to improve their arm and grip strength. Feet are not used when climbing on the board. Gym members just hold onto rungs and make their way up solely using their upper body strength.

As the sport increases in popularity – it was included in the Olympics for the first time this summer – people of all ages are taking advantage of the facility.

“There’s a young couple who climb here very avidly,” Rankin said. “Just last year they had a baby, and he has been rolling around on the mats here his whole life.

“So you kind of see a climber in training there already.”

The activity can benefit any who choose to partake in it, Rankin goes on to mention.

“Some good problem solving skills are learned through climbing,” he said. “If you just throw yourself at it without any technique or though, its very difficult. But once you learn how to move your body in the environment, and really use your brain to break down the problems you’re trying to climb, it’s a good physical and mental exercise.”

The community within the gym is also a big draw.

“Climbing gyms are pretty cool social places,” Rankin offers. “You come and meet like-minded people, which is great, especially around here where it’s pretty dark in the winter months.

“I know before I started coming here I spent too much time on my couch in the winter time, just not doing too much.

“So it’s nice here where you can just build friendships and build community.”

To find out more about On The Rocks, visit the website at, or call 250-287-7625.

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