By Sara Wolfe

Climbing Gyms in the U.S.

Rock climbing has been around for a long time, from climbing out of necessity to climbing for sport, from military preparation to recreational play. While climbing has branched off into different styles, modern sport climbing developed in the 1970s and ’80s and involves inserting permanent bolts into the rock on rock faces, clipping quickdraws into the bolts and finally clipping a dynamic (stretchy) rope into the quickdraws as safety while climbing up the rock.

After a history of hammering pitons into rock and using hemp rope as safety, the introduction of sport climbing and dynamic ropes changed the face of climbing. This new generation of climbers wanted to train longer and harder, even into the cold, wet winter months. Indoor climbing walls were born and eventually climbing gyms, to accommodate the growing numbers of people coming to the sport.

Indoor climbing in North Carolina started with the construction of the Chapel Hill Community Center wall in 1987, when indoor climbing gyms were a fairly radical idea. Now there are more than 10,000 climbing walls in the U.S. and new ones opening every year.

Climbing offers ever-changing opportunities for growth and self-challenge and the community of climbers is a close-knit and supportive one that highly values exploration and adventure as well as discovering personal limits and continuing to expand them.

Most major cities in North Carolina, and even smaller ones, have a climbing gym.

Climbing Gyms in N.C.

What do you need to get started?

To get started on your climbing adventures, first take an intro class at your local gym. Once you’re hooked, there are several pieces of gear you’ll need. Most gyms have rentals, but if you plan on pursuing climbing into the future, you’ll want to have your own gear that fits your shape, size and preferences.

  • Here’s what you’ll need:
  • Climbing shoes – these feature sticky rubber soles to help keep your feet on the walls
  • Harness – you’ll find all shapes and sizes, colors and styles
  • Belay device – locking carabiner plus ATC
  • Chalk bag (optional) – all varieties of color combinations
  • Stretchy clothing that allows for flexibility

A starter package will cost you between $200 and $300, but most gear will last several years.

N.C.-based resources for climbing gear (support our local yokels!)


Rock climbing can be a dangerous sport, participation in which can cause serious injury and death. You should never climb without extensive training by experienced climbers. You should never climb without proper high-quality rock climbing gear. And, you should never climb if you are not willing to accept full responsibility for the consequences of your participation in this sport.

Sarah Wolfe has been climbing for 10 years, is a lead climbing instructor at Triangle Rock Club, secretary of the board for Carolina Climbers Coalition, and an ambassador for American Alpine Club, though her main work is in arts administration. Follow her work at smArts creative programs & events.