Puffs of chalk fill the air as climbers ready themselves for their scale up the bright, multi-colored wall at Vital Climbing Gym in downtown Bellingham.
To some, this new climbing gym might not look like more than an adult playground, but for avid rock climbers it’s a haven and a gem. Vital gym is the only 24-hour climbing gym in the city where members can come and go any time they please.
This has been the selling point for Vital, which celebrated its second anniversary on Saturday, July 11. For this event, Vital offered a free day-pass for all attendees.
The anniversary day began with an open gym, which brought different climbers from various skill levels.
“[I see] a lot of people who have never been here before,” said Justin Plant, the community manager at Vital. “It was kind of what we were hoping for with the free day-pass.”
For many, the free day-pass was an extra incentive for those who hadn’t had the chance to come in and check out the gym, Plant said.
The atmosphere was buzzing as people clambered on the rock wall, walked across slacklines and played lawn games before sitting down to enjoy an evening barbecue as well as an after-party at Aslan Brewing Company.
Vital attracts a vast community of climbers and while a significant number of them come from Western, Bellingham has a strong climbing community that regularly visits the climbing gym, Plant said.
Several Western students came to join in the festivities, taking advantage of the free day-pass. Brian Whetter, a second-year graduate student, said that he and some of his climbing buddies frequently climb at Western’s rock wall but had never been to Vital. They said they saw a flyer at Wade King Student Recreation Center.
Logan Fletcher, a junior and member of Western’s rock-climbing team, began working at Vital earlier this year. Fletcher said that in the past, Western and Vital have worked out a deal for the team to come and practice at the gym. Last year, Western’s team practiced from 9 - 11 p.m. until the gym asked the team to practice somewhere else or at a different time. The team now practices at the Rec Center, Fletcher said.
“We are actually the only school [in the conference] that has tryouts because we have such big community that wants to climb,” Fletcher said. “So we do have to make cuts.”
The team aims for 24 students, but had 27 this year, Fletcher said.
“We wish we could take more people but our practice space actually has a maximum occupancy of 24 people,” he said.
Western’s climbing team has had success in recent years, having taken home first place in the Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit for the past four years. Western’s Whitney Burton placed first in the individual women’s category at Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit (NC3), according to the league’s website.
NC3 is one of the largest collegiate competitive series in the country. In 2008, the series expanded to eight leading regional universities with state-of-the-art climbing centers, according to their website.
Western’s Rec Center has over 3,300 square feet of climbing space and reaches 12 feet off the ground, and even higher for those who decide to strap-into a harness, according to the Western website. But for those who seek a larger gym space, Vital offers more floor space and features different obstacles than the Rec Center, including a “cliff hanger” wall, cannon ball grips and a salmon ladder to test and strengthen a climber's grip strength.
However, Plant said that not all college students can afford the membership price even with a reduced cost, so Western’s climbing team continues to climb at the Rec Center climbing wall.
Vital climbing gym started in Murrieta, California, and then another gym opened in Carlsbad, California, before the company moved up to Bellingham and opened a new facility in 2013, Ethan Cohen, Western student and Vital employee said.