Central Texas: Rock Climbing Playground

By Robert Lewis – May 1, 2014
Photography by Merrick Ales

Rock climbing in Austin is growing, as are the local businesses and groups that support it. Although the sport has traditionally been a niche activity for slightly counter-cultural young people (a subculture that fits well with Austin’s overall vibe), it has become more accessible in recent years. The once inconspicuous climbing communities that existed in various cities and regions have grown considerably, making climbing more mainstream.

Why this new growth? Climbing is an exceptional social bonding activity, and great for all who wish to augment their regular workout routine with something more organic and adventurous. Apart from Austin’s steady population boom, decent outdoor climbing just two miles from downtown in the Barton Creek greenbelt is likely another location-specific factor driving popularity. The ability to climb outdoors within city limits makes it perfect for the busy urbanite.

Limestone boulders and cliffs, such as those at Milton Reimers Ranch Park, dot the countryside around Austin, and Enchanted Rock Natural Area provides granite climbing less than two hours away. When Lake Travis is not so dry, climbers free themselves of ropes and scale the surrounding cliffs, protected from falls by the water below. Equally favorable to climbers, the local climate creates a situation where there is never an offseason (although many climbers stick to their indoor gyms during the most intense summer heat).
This consistent growth of the sport in Austin seems to have yielded greater demand for indoor climbing. Traditionally, Austin Rock Gym has offered both sport climbing (roped, anchored) as well as bouldering (near-the-ground, un-roped above pads). Two new rock gyms are on their way to serve the growing demand for convenient indoor training. Seattle Bouldering Project is slated to open a bouldering-only gym, Austin Bouldering Project, later this year. And local climbers Matt Twyman and Kevin Goradia will be opening Crux Climbing Center near downtown, which will cater to the local climbing community by featuring 24/7 gym access and providing an impressive events venue.

Rock gyms serve important functions to their climbing communities that go beyond mere training, competitions, or climate control. Gyms are also a great place for beginners to start climbing, reinforce community ties, and receive the preparation necessary before venturing outdoors.

Local businesses and groups support outdoor climbing as well. For example, Rock-About Texas provides “beginner to pro” courses year round for individuals and groups. They go on excursions to Enchanted Rock and teach the fundamentals of rope work and climbing technique. Rock Dog, which is an inexpensive, dog-friendly campground that caters to climbers at Reimers Ranch, just had their soft opening in early March, and will now be open from Fridays at 4 p.m. through Sunday afternoons. (Rock Dog plans to be open full time later in the year with a small restaurant and tavern for the climbers.)

“We realized that many of our favorite climbing areas around the United States had a campground nearby so that climbers can socialize at the end of the day or get a head start on climbing by cutting out the drive time,” said Rock Dog co-owner Ferris Kilpatrick. “We are trying to emulate that here in Austin.”
There are also a handful of online groups (Climbing Buddies, Austin Climbers, and Climbing Meetup) who use Yahoo! and Meetup.com to coordinate outdoor climbing. Each group seems to be extremely welcoming to newcomers, even to those who show up alone without all of the necessary gear.

There is a lot of untapped potential for outdoor climbing in central Texas. It is impossible to drive through the countryside without seeing tantalizing cliff faces or large, fun-looking boulders. Much of it is on private land unavailable to climbers. Social pressure and economic incentives are likely to increase climbers’ access to these lands, especially as more people begin climbing, more businesses rely on it for revenue, and climbers even buy land for themselves. Additionally, organizations such as the Access Fund and Central Texas Mountaineers work with property owners and the state to ensure that environmentally sustainable climbing activities are welcome at local crags.

There are several options for those who wish to start climbing. You can find friends who climb, visit your local gym, or check in with services like Rock-About. Opportunities to start climbing in Austin are increasing on all fronts.

“I’m happy to see opportunities for climbing increasing around my hometown,” said Crux Climbing Center co-owner Matt Twyman, “Climbing is an inherently social activity, and Austin is the perfect city for the sport to thrive in.” 



Related Articles