What’s to Love: Originally opened in 1988, Portland Rock Gym (PRG) has become a cornerstone of the Pacific Northwest climbing scene. When opened, it was one of the first modular climbing gyms in the United States (history). Many Portland area climbers are affiliated with this gym in one way or another. Even among competing businesses, I have never heard a negative word about the gym, and it’s reputation is just as strong today as it was 12 years ago when I first climbed there.
In its present location, this is definitely one of the nicest climbing facilities I’ve ever seen. Many climbing gyms rent out old warehouses and build walls inside. The PRG was built from the ground-up with an aesthetically pleasing design both inside and out. The walls are high with what appears to be an infinite number of climbing routes and boulder problems. PRG even has crack climbing and some of the most realistic thin face climbing on their Metolius hexagonal tiles. When you look closely at the pictures, you’ll notice colored tape. The various colors mark each route. Here is a slide show and video clip from our recent climbing party.
The Portland Rock Gym has a kind and knowledgeable staff that will get you set-up and fitted with the right gear quickly. If you need lessons, there are plenty of workshops, clinics, camps, and classes available on a regular basis. If you’re first-timers, try one or both of the “Learn to Climb” classes. If you don’t want to belay, “Friday/Saturday Night Heights” is the best option.
Once you’re ready to go, the gym has a wide variety of climbs (e.g., slabs, cracks, overhangs, and bouldering from beginning to expert) that will keep even the most experienced climbers entertained. Personally, I think the slabs offer some of the best climbing for younger children. There are also some shorter climbs near the slabs.
In addition to all the great climbing, the gym offers a small weight-room with machines and some free-weights, yoga, and a pro-shop to get you fitted for indoor and outdoor climbing. PRG can host your next corporate event, birthday party, give you and/or your kids private lessons, and offers a full array of youth programs.
Exciting news to report with this updated article! PRG now has three auto-belay systems at the gym with a fourth on the way. We tried them out this morning, and it’s so much fun! If you don’t want to learn to belay, or you want to climb with your kids at the same time, the auto-belay climbs are the perfect solution. It’s so easy – just a couple clips to your belay loop and off you go! Here is a short clip of our experience with auto-belay at PRG.
Caveats: It’s always a good idea to rent shoes, if you don’t already have a pair. The shoes make a HUGE difference when trying to stand on small holds. Watching kids climb in their street shoes is like watching them climb with mittens on their hands. It’s an extra cost, but it’s worth it.
The huge walls can be a bit intimidating for young climbers. Let kids know they don’t have to climb to the top, and that might alleviate some of their fears. Better yet, start them on a wall where the anchors are not so high off the ground.
Kids under 10 years old are not allowed in the bouldering area, and kids 11 – 13 must be accompanied by an adult.
Kids under 6 can only do roped-climbs if their parents are experienced belayers.
Website: Portland Rock Gym
Distance from Portland: Gym is within a 1/4 mile of downtown right at the intersection of the Sandy Blvd. and Burnside. Here is a Google Map.
Recommended Ages: Climbing is a great activity at almost any stage of life. However, small kids have to be able to fit into a harness, which means at least 3 or 4 years old, and preferably ages 6 and up. Again, kids 6 and younger must be accompanied by a parent with belaying experience.
Parental Stress Factor: Medium to High. The staff members at the gym do everything possible to make this an enjoyable experience for the whole family. However, watching your kid/s dangle from a rope 20-30 feet off the ground can be a bit stressful for some parents. Also, trying to keep watch of several kids can create more stress.
Physical Difficulty: Hard! Climbing is not easy. Even “easy” routes present physical challenges that will work your body in ways you’re not used to. However, kids’ bodies are much more adaptable to physical challenges, and many kids are natural climbers. Is your child a natural climber? This question will probably be answered the first time you see your kid climb.
Family Fun Factor: This depends on quite a few factors. Is your child old enough to belay you, or will you be belaying your child the entire time? Is your child scared or nervous? Do they just want to boulder the entire time? My thought is, if you’ll be climbing with your child, the fun factor is definitely “High!”
If you’re following your child around and belaying the entire time, the family fun factor is “low to medium.” Of course, in either scenario, your child will probably be having a great time!
Pet Friendly: No dogs.
Weather Considerations: Wondering what to do on a rainy, dreary, winter day? This is the perfect solution to the doom and gloom of winter!
Insider Info: When climbing with kids, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the rules of the gym. Be aware of other climbers, no running and watch their little feet, because they like stepping on ropes, which is a big “no-no!”
If this is your first time to the gym, allow extra time for learning how to put on a harness and familiarize yourself with the gym. You’ll need to get “certified” to belay at the gym, even if you’re an experienced climber. Contact the gym for more information.
If your kids are climbing quite a bit, buy them a pair of climbing shoes and their own harness – you’ll save on the rental fees, which can add up!
Family Tips: There are “…kids after school climbing clubs,” which might be a good option if your kids need something to do after school. There are two separate clubs – one for kids 6-11, and one for kids 12 – 17.
While you can bring snacks and drinks to the gym, there isn’t a lot of room to sit down comfortably and eat. Also, the storage area for personal items is limited. Therefore, since younger kids will not last too long anyway, it’s probably best to eat before you show up.
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