A rock climber is perched 30 feet above the ground, toes and fingers clinging spiderlike to holds no wider than a quarter. He surveys the rough surface above him. Seeking. Calculating. He must move quickly. There.
Decision made, he reaches out...deliberately...toward another hold. It is too far. He stretches his already fully extended body and, in desperation, lunges.
The climber falls a few feet before the safety line to which he is harnessed tightens and yanks him sharply to a stop. It hurts, but the real pain is in his disgust. He rights himself and rappels down the wall. He unhitches himself from the ropes and harness, and heads toward the lounge to rest before making another attempt.
Yes, the lounge. No, not in Yellowstone, or New York's Shawangunk Mountains. This isn't one of nature's massive rock formations. It's the Boston Rock Gym, a storefront climbing facility that caters daily to the walk-in trade.
The brainchild of three 32-year-old rock climbing buddies—Wayne Domeier, a field engineer; Tom Nonis, a carpenter; and Steve Weitzler, who works full-time on the premises—the Boston Rock Gym was the first full-fledged indoor rock climbing facility east of the Rockies when it opened last summer. (There are two rock gyms on the West Coast, the Vertical Club in Seattle and the Portland Rock Gym in Oregon; some others recently opened are in Ithaca, N.Y.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and New York City.) Stuck in a commercial block of Somerville, Mass., between a bottle-redemption center and a driving school, the Boston Rock Gym isn't easy to find. Though climbers can buy all their gear here, the Boston Rock Gym also rents sticky-soled climbing shoes and harnesses for $5. Walk-in climbers pay $8 a day to use the gym, which is open from 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. You can also sign up for a three-, six- or 12-month membership, for $109, $189 and $295, respectively, and get unlimited use of the place.
After signing in at the front desk, you go past the makeshift lounge with its two well-worn couches, some overstuffed chairs and video machines, past the changing cubicles and into the last room at the back of the building.
There it is. The Wall is not exactly Devils Tower or El Capitan, but no one is complaining.
The four-story building had been a performance theater until the 1950s; from the 35- by 17-foot floor, the four walls of the former fly loft, behind what was the stage, soar upward 40 feet. The three partners couldn't have asked for a better set for the type of play they had in mind. They spent 2� months converting the structure. There are 17 separate climbing routes up the four brick sides; artificial hand- and footholds are screwed into the surface. Near the top of one is a plywood overhang covered with textured panels, for friction, and also fitted with handholds and footholds—for experienced climbers. Another wall has a 22-foot section that is kicked-back, or slightly inclined. Compared with the other three in the room, it looks like a downright easy ascent.