GadRock brings indoor rock climbing to banks of Coosa River

GadRock brings indoor rock climbing to banks of Coosa River
GadRock’s Eric Johnson climbs a route. (Justin Averette/Shorelines)

Carrie Machen and Kate Wilson call their indoor rock climbing and fitness center in Gadsden a “microgym.” If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s probably because the two friends-turned-business-partners made it up.

“Microgym” pays homage to the time the two spent working at nearby microbrewery Back Forty Beer Company and describes the facility, named GadRock, the two have built on Neely Henry Lake to a tee.

“We thought up the idea over a few microbrews one night, and it has stuck ever since,” Machen said. “The term ‘microgym’ fits who we are and what our vision for GadRock is. Being the biggest does not necessarily make you the best. We want to be the best at what we do. And if that means being ‘micro’ … we are OK with that.”

GadRock, which opened around Labor Day, has a footprint of 6,000 square feet. The space is well-organized, offering more than 4,500 square feet of climbing. Plans include eventually having as much climbable area as walkable square footage.

The facility also has space for yoga as well as events like birthday parties and corporate retreats.

“The indoor climbing gym trend has been to open megagyms in large cities,” Machen said. “We wanted to break the mold a bit and focus on growing the industry and increasing access to the sport in less populated areas like Gadsden. We may be a microgym, but we have a lot going on. We love our footprint and think it is a repeatable plan that fits into a small, local community vibe.”

The Gadsden area has become a well-known destination in climbing circles. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition acquired nearby Hospital Boulders in 2012 and opened the boulder field to the public.

Machen and Wilson hope to build on the growing enthusiasm for climbing while also focusing on overall fitness.

“There are amazing, world-class natural rock formations in and around the greater Gadsden area, and our mission is to provide a place for climbers and newcomers to the sport to meet, train and build confidence to get out and explore our area and beyond,” Machen said. “Train here; explore there.”

GadRock’s climbing surface includes roped walls as high as 40 feet and a dedicated bouldering area.

Climbers can both lead climb (the first climber on a route) or belay (the second climber on a route who runs rope through a device attached to his or her harness and feeds line out as the lead climber rises). There are also self- or automatic belays.

“These are just easy-peasy. You get into your harness, and it automatically pulls you down when you let go. It makes it so almost anyone can climb,” Machen said.

Along the wall, different routes are marked by colors and graded. Courses get harder as you move from left to right.

“We have setters who will climb and set a route as they ascend. Then, they’ll have several other people climb it, and everyone gives feedback on what we think the grade of that route is,” Machen said. “It’s a collaborative effort.”

GadRock offers classes on lead climbing, belaying and boulders. Machen said almost anyone could climb, including young children.

“It just depends on the child. We had a 3-year-old that climbed for hours the other day,” Machen said.

“She was ready, though. She was a little beast.”

In addition to training for outdoor climbing and bouldering, some GadRock members climb for cardio and strength exercise.

“We have several people that come in the mornings, and they climb every auto belay and do it as fast as they can,” Machen said. “That’s their workout that day. Then we have people that spend hours in here training, so they can go climb outside.”

GadRock also emphasizes cross-training. To further this mission, GadRock hired Mike Moore as director of climbing and fitness. He brings more than 10 years of climbing experience to the gym and has climbed throughout the South.

“Climbing,” Moore said, “is about being just as strong on the ground as you are on the wall.”

From Memorial Day to Labor Day (and other times when the weather is nice), the gym offers four different paddleboard classes on Neely Henry. There is one for beginning paddlers, an ecotour that focuses on birding and collecting trash from the water, a fitness tour and a yoga tour. GadRock began offering paddling tours this summer before the rock climbing wall opened.

“Paddling is great cross-training for climbing. I think they complement each other well,” Machen said. “Also, the water is in an integral part of our community here and our gym is focused on community. What’s better than introducing a new sport like climbing to one we are all used to?”

GadRock is located at the Lakeview Professional Center at 1403 Rainbow Drive in Gadsden and is open seven days a week.

General contractors for the building were Chase Building Group, while CDP Design LLC served as architects. Both are local to Gadsden. Rockwerx Inc. of Massachusetts designed the walls.

“We used as many local people as possible,” Machen said.

The gym offers monthly membership and day passes. For more information, visit Climbgadrock.com or Facebook (GadRock) and Instagram (@GadRock).

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

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