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Adirondack Explorer

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rock gym the fruit of Adirondack climber’s passion

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Tom Rosecrans is one of the most prolific rock climbers in the Adirondacks. The authors of the guidebook Adirondack Rock credit him with taking part in the first ascents of 122 climbing routes. On most of those, he was the leader, assuming the lion’s share of the risk.

One of his routes, TR at the Spider’s Web in Keene Valley, is featured on Adirondack Rock’s slip cover. Rosecrans put up the route in 1973 with Paul Laskey. TR is rated 5.10a in the Yosemite Decimal System scale of difficulty, meaning it’s suitable only for expert climbers.

Several years ago, I climbed with Tom on a much easier route at one of his favorite places—Rogers Rock overlooking Lake George. Carl Heilman II climbed with us and took photos.

Recently I had the pleasure of climbing with Tom again—at Rocksport, his brand-new climbing gym in Glens Falls. You might think that a guy like Tom owning a rock gym is a lot like an alcoholic owning a bar. You might suppose he spends all day climbing.

Not so. Business matters occupy much of his time. Rocksport employs 26 people (most are part time). So there is payroll to meet, bills to pay, marketing, scheduling events.

So when I visited Rocksport a few weekends ago, Rosecrans was grateful for an excuse to climb for an hour or two.

Rock gym

Tom Rosecrans

Rosecrans ran a much smaller rock gym in Glens Falls for many years. After retiring from teaching social studies, he decided to take a financial plunge and build a facility from the ground up, one designed by and for climbers. He hired Walltopia, a leader in the field, which designed the climbing walls based on his ideas. The gym opened this past spring.

Rocksport is a great resource for Adirondack climbers of all abilities who want to hone their skills and keep sharp over the winter. Entering the rock gym, you encounter a 50-foot-high brightly colored, overhanging wall—definitely terrain for experts. Fifty feet is about as high as walls get in climbing gyms.

“I wanted something that would blow you out of the water as soon as you walk in,” Rosecrans said.

Right of the overhang, the wall gradually tapers to about thirty feet. All told, the rock gym offers 65 to 70 routes, ranging from super easy to super hard. Sixteen or so of them have self-belay anchors, meaning you can clip into the rope and climb without a partner: if you slip, the anchor will catch the rope and prevent you from falling. This allows for a great solo workout. “You can do sixteen to eighteen routes in here, and if you down-climb them all, you’re toast,” Rosecrans remarked.

One thing I especially liked about Rocksport is that the holds on each route are one color—whether red, green, purple, yellow, or whatever. At many gyms, routes are marked by colored tape, but the holds themselves are different colors. Consequently, you’re always craning your neck to make sure the tape next to a hold you want to use is the right color.

This convenience for the climber came at a price. The gym changes its routes every five weeks. Rocksport can’t mix and match holds from different routes (unless they’re the same color), which means it must have lots of holds of every color in reserve. Rosecrans figures that he spent $50,000 just on holds—more than six thousand of them. The largest holds cost more than $250 apiece.

All of the routes have anchors for top roping. This is a safe way to climb. As you climb, your belayer pulls in the slack, so if you slip, you won’t fall very far. However, the routes also have bolts for lead climbing. In this scenario, the lead climber clips the bolts while ascending.  If the leader falls, he will fall some distance below the last clipped bolt but not all the way to the ground.

Part of the climbing area is set aside for bouldering—climbing short, difficult routes without a rope. If you fall, you land on a cushioned floor.

Rocksport also features a yoga studio, conference room, and an exercise area geared toward climbers. The exercise area, located on a mezzanine, contains a curious piece of equipment called a MoonBoard. It’s a small climbing wall, about eight feet wide and ten feet tall, that overhangs 40 degrees. The wall has a grid of holds with an LED light beside each one. The MoonBoard boasts hundreds of boulder “problems” (think of them as miniature climbing routes). Select the one you want on an app, and the problem lights up.

Devised by Ben Moon, an English climber, MoonBoards are identical the world over. Thus, a climber can work on the same problems whether in Tokyo, Berlin, or Glens Falls. Rosecrans believes the MoonBoard at Rocksport is the first on the East Coast.

Rosecrans is still putting up routes, but most of them are now indoors. In my visit, we climbed several of his creations in the 5.7 to 5.8 range. We also did a 5.10 put up by Tyler Kerr, one of his assistants (at least Tom did; I made it only halfway up).

Although he wishes he had more time to climb outside, he finds satisfaction in growing his business at Rocksport. “We’re pretty happy and pretty proud,” he said. “The last stage in my life probably will be involved with this.”

Not that he has abandoned outdoor climbing altogether. This year he put up two new routes at Rogers Rock—one rated 5.9+, the other 5.10-.

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

2 Responses

  1. I have a small but important correction to Phil’s post. TR was put up 5.7 C1–clean climbing was just beginning, stoppers and hexcentrics were new, 5.10 didn’t exist (well, there were many 5.9+ which were really 5.10’s), harnesses, belay devices, and real climbing shoes were in the near future. It was Paul who gave the cliff it’s name, a good one I should think.

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