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The Olympics and major new records are fueling interest in rock climbing and the area’s artificial climbing walls.

This year has been absolutely huge for rock climbing. Sport climbing made its Olympic debut at the postponed 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, where international climbers competed in the three disciplines of bouldering and speed and lead climbing. Several records have also been set, namely by female climbers. Tahoe City’s Emily Harrington became the first woman to free-climb El Capitan in less than 24 hours, while 2020 Olympic gold medalist Janja Garnbret became the first woman to climb an onsight 8c route. To top it off, literally, Dierdre Wolownick, mother of “Free Solo” climber Alex Honnold, celebrated her 70th birthday by becoming the oldest woman to scale El Capitan. She started working out and climbing late in life, too, which gives others hope in taking up this mentally and physically challenging pastime. Here are some climbing gyms that cater to first-timers and professionals alike.

BASECAMP AT WHITNEY PEAK HOTEL

While wandering around Reno, tourists often look up and think, “What’s that?!” They’re gawking at one of the world’s tallest climbing walls. BaseCamp’s 164-foot-high outdoor, artificial climbing wall, is second only to a recently constructed 165-foot structure in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Guiness World Record holder’s first and second pitches are 70 feet and 94 feet according to BaseCamp manager Brian Sweeney. Though elite climbers train on the wall, which stays dry during winter, lots of newbies discover it daily by staying at the hotel or spotting it from the street. The 7,000-square-foot indoor bouldering park features birch wood walls as high as almost 16 feet. Sweeney says slacklining is another draw. basecampreno.com

MESA RIM

San Diego-born Mesa Rim opened its 24,000-square-foot Reno outpost four years ago. Billed as northern Nevada’s largest indoor climbing gym, it offers top roping, sport climbing, speed climbing, bouldering and one-hour belay lessons for climbing partners to grasp the basics. Individual climbers and various teams travel from as far as California and the Pacific Northwest to train on its 50-foot-high indoor climbing walls and 15-foot-high, Olympic regulation-rated speed climbing walls, but the gym prides itself most in nurturing its strong community. It partners with charities like Reno Bike Project, hosts regular events such as pizza parties and makes sure that everyone from preschoolers to members of the LGBTQ community feels welcome and has a chance to participate. mesarim.com

NORTH PEAK CLIMBING & FITNESS

Longtime institution RockSport rebranded as North Peak Climbing & Fitness when it reopened in 2021 after last year’s covid shutdown. Among North America’s oldest climbing gyms that was instrumental in setting industry standards with the Climbing Wall Association, it’s operated at the same site on Silverada Boulevard since the early Nineties. The transition also brought renovated locker rooms and new amenities including a yoga studio and better exercise equipment for the redesigned fitness center. The 10,000-square-foot+ venue offers auto belays, sport climbing, top roping and bouldering. Its comprehensive Peakpass class, the best route for beginners, checks off all the boxes from technique to gear to strategy. northpeakreno.com

HIGH ALTITUDE FITNESS

Everyone thought Jason Burd was crazy to open High Altitude Fitness in Incline Village in 2006. They said a ski town didn’t have a large enough population to sustain a climbing gym. Proving them all wrong, his 14,000-square-foot facility produced climbers like Kings Beach’s Stefan Fellner who ranked 16th at the 2017 IFSC Youth World Championships. It will be fun to watch who comes out of his new $13 million, 27,000-square-foot climbing gym in Truckee. Burd said students from the high school across the street pile into the gym after class. (The second location, the largest fitness center in any U.S. ski town by his account, averages 500 people a day, and the combined gyms have 3,000 members.) In Truckee, sport climbing and bouldering have their own floors; there are 90 rock climbing routes and 120 boulder problems versus Incline Village’s respective 40 and 50. At 57 feet wide and 49 feet high, its lead wall is more challenging than the original gym’s wall too. Both gyms offer yoga, cycling, cardio and classes, and Burd plans to upgrade Incline Village’s cardio equipment this season. highaltitudefit.net

BLUE GRANITE CLIMBING GYM

When Gianna Aveni and Brad Leavers moved to Tahoe in 2013, they missed their old climbing gym’s sense of community and saw a need for one here where climbers could bond and train on bad weather days. Built from the ground up with a timber lodge aesthetic, their Blue Granite Climbing Gym opened a few years ago in South Lake Tahoe. They got around the town’s height restrictions, which are far too low for any sort of serious climbing—by digging down 10 feet. Aveni said the resulting above/below-ground, 42-foot-high indoor climbing wall is one of the gym’s coolest factors. They were spot on in predicting demand, judging by the constant flow of tourists and locals, youth teams, and members and day pass holders, especially when it snows or rains. bluegraniteclimbing.com

VIA FERRATA AT PALISADES TAHOE

The Tram Face granite peak’s Via Ferrata re-opens in June or earlier depending on snow conditions. Alpenglow Expeditions guides climbers of all levels along its fixed system of steel cables and anchors. Look for the outfitter’s promotions about a month prior to opening day. The village’s newly installed mobile climbing wall has been a hit from the start, especially with younger children who don’t meet the Via Ferrata’s 3’11” height requirement. The wall operates during summer weekends and special events. In the meantime, Alpenglow partnered with High Altitude Fitness climbing gym in Truckee for its guides and instructors to help clients work on their climbing skills, ski conditioning and other winter fitness goals. palisadestahoe.com. alpenglowexpeditions.com

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