I spent the weekend in Richmond, VA with family for July 4th festivities, and had the opportunity to check out Peak Experiences in Midlothian, VA (crappy picture stolen from their website).
My youngest brother had climbed at Peak once or twice before, so he made arrangements with the gym in advance for my brother Jonathan and I to take our belay and lead certification tests (yes, they require you make an appointment to take their tests). It took about 45 minutes to go through all the motions with them, but neither of us minded. They did at least seem to be a little more attentive to proper technique and safety procedures than Sportrock (who passes just about everyone that takes the test, even if they don’t know what they are doing – but that is another story for another time!).
My brother Christian (the youngest) had given us a heads-up on a few things that were a little different than the way things were done at Sportrock, but I went into the experience with a positive attitude and excitement towards climbing at another gym.
That excitement dropped pretty quickly. There were three major things that really bugged me about Peak Experiences:
- Peak Experiences has somewhere between 50-60 top ropes set up for routes (I don’t remember the exact number). Every single one is a static rope. I haven’t climbed in that many places but never before had I climbed at a gym that exclusively used static ropes, and I didn’t like it one bit. On top of that, the ropes were pretty outdated and were in need of replacing, largely as a result of annoyance #2. The ropes did not slide smoothly through equipment, and you were left with a strange black residue on your hands after belaying. Some of the ropes were difficult to even get through an ATC due to how swelled and dirty they were.
- The floor at Peak Experiences is comprised of thousands of little river rocks. I had never climbed at an indoor gym with a floor like this before, and wasn’t quite sure of the benefits. Naturally, I asked the kid who was giving us our belay tests “why the stone?” The response I got had something to do with better weight distribution when you take falls on it (he also made sure to toss in that the floor was better than that at Sportrock, like he had something to prove). He proceeded to tell me about someone who hit the deck from near 50 feet and nothing more than some scratches and soreness. While I can’t verify the results of taking a 50 foot fall onto that stone, jumping off the wall from 2 feet hurt like hell. It also made it very difficult to maintain your footing when belaying someone who took a fall (but I understand that is something you deal with outdoors, so I’m not subtracting points for that). Lastly, the nature of the floor made it impossible to clean, so everything got dirty when it touched the floor – ropes, shoes, feet, rope bags, etc. I was virtually covered in a disgusting dirty white substance after the first 30 minutes.
- Apparently with the latest management change, Peak Experiences decided to stop using tape to mark routes and start using colored holds (not illustrated in picture above, mind you). “Great idea” I thought to myself before arriving. “Stupid idea” I thought to myself after climbing three routes. The problem with using colored holds and not tape is that you get very little variety in any one route because all of the holds that are, for example, bright orange, are exactly the same. You don’t have a small, crimpy move to a big jug for resting. Instead you are left with small, crimpy move to identical small, crimpy move followed by another small, crimpy move. And this continues all the way to the top. Combine this with poor route planning and not marking very well for feet, I found myself having to power my way through 5.8s because there were no feet to use and the hand holds were in absurd places in relation to each other.
We lasted about 2 hours before calling it quits, primarily because we had grown tired of the gym. We got tired of climbing routes where the first 10 feet offered everything the next 30 feet would, we didn’t enjoy lead climbing on “declined” routes (what exactly is the term for something opposite of an overhang or roof?) because one slip would have meant sliding balls-first down the wall, over the edge and into another arête, and we really didn’t like top-roping on static ropes.
I had been informed that things used to be much better at Peak Experiences, before the new management took over. My guess? The gym must have come on hard times and was looking for ways to cut back on costs (at least I hope that is the reason, and they aren’t just being cheap!). The end result? A sub-par gym in my opinion that offered more frustrations than enjoyment. Would I go back again? If I was visiting family down in the Richmond area and they wanted to climb indoors, sure. Would I recommend anyone go out of their way to try out Peak Experiences? Not really. From what I was told, there was some pretty cool outdoor climbing at some old railroad supports near the river that would probably be worth checking out first.