The Wall, Ukraine’s Most Modern Climbing Gym in Lviv

Photo source: The Wall

In 2015, Stanislav “Stas” Kleshnov took his place on the podium, waved to the crowd, and walked away from competition climbing as the Ukrainian champion.

For 25 years, this had been his life. The competitive spirit is marked in his sharp-features and stern look, which cracks with an occasional smirk or glint in his eye. His determined expression offers clues of the hard work it took to rise from the 10 year old kid who was inspired the first time he saw the limestone cliffs over the Black Sea. 

He knew then the sport was his escape from a life of mining or metallurgy, the likely paths for those from Donetsk. 

Climbing offered a way to see Europe after the dissolution of the USSR, and it exposed him to the training resources and gyms in other countries. For years Ukraine had a strong showing in international competition, from Olga Shalagina (1st, boulder), Olena Ryepko (1st, speed), and Maksym Styenkovyy (2nd place, speed), claiming medals as World Champions in 2005 to multiple podium placements across the three disciplines (speed, boulder, lead) through the early 2010s. Danyil Boldyrev remains one of the best in speed, but the country has seen its position passed in the other disciplines by the likes of Japan, Slovenia, China, and others.

Photo source: The Wall


In the end, Stas was proud of the national team’s accomplishments, but disappointed in the state of things and where they were headed. 

“The government just hasn’t invested in the sport like other countries. They didn’t build any modern gyms. They thought professional sportsmen would grow up in the private sector [at commercial gyms], but those gyms [here] aren’t designed for that. Ukraine is falling behind,” Stas demurs.

When he decided to hang up his boots, he wanted to leave a legacy beyond his medals. He used what he learned from international competition to open the country’s most modern climbing gym, The Wall, in Lviv, and to welcome others into the sport.

Stas says, “Before the modern gyms, you could only start climbing in a sports institute or in school. There was no other way: Only children’s school or a sports school. We make climbing more open.”

The Wall is taking an innovative approach borne out of necessity, some luck, and a rise in accessibility to the sport, such as climbing gear being more easily available and rising wages. 

Photo source: The Wall


The Gym:

Stas flashed a smile and greeted me in English, a language he hadn’t had to use in months. 

“Добрий день (dobryj den, ‘hello’),” I offered, and he showed me around the gym. 

Tucked into the side of an office building, The Wall offers a unique model that is perfectly suited for the small, but growing climbing community in Lviv. At 210 sq. meters (689 sq. ft.), it is tiny by conventional standards, but it suggests a viable “micro” gym for corporate and residential buildings as climbing continues to increase in popularity.

In Lviv, this size works just fine given the cost constraints (rent can be as expensive as in Germany), shifting cultural acceptance around paying for sport, and the gradual but developing interest in climbing in Ukraine. Still, The Wall welcomed over 1,200 unique climbers last year, most of whom tried the sport for the first time. 

Photo source: The Wall


The gym itself is bathed in light with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. The place is cozy without feeling cramped, and amazingly, it packs in over 50 routes up to 14 meters high. Given the strength of the instructors (many have competed on the national team), the setting is high quality, catering to the moderate range. There is a bouldering area with plenty of features to keep it interesting, and a workout space that doubles as a yoga room.

I spent August, 2018 in Lviv and this was my first dedicated time to top-roping. The instructors were personable and friendly, and were quick to offer encouragement in the form of yelling “давай-давай (davai davai, something like ‘let’s go!’)” at me.

It was a fantastic place to learn the ropes.


Amenities:

Yoga, hang boards, plyometric boxes, personal instruction, instructors who will happily belay you, changing room.

How to Get There:

Google Maps doesn’t show all the bus and tram options, so download the Eway app.

The 2 tram and the 29 bus will get you there.

Photo source: The Wall

Address:

Lviv, Geroiv UPA 72 housing 40, Technopark

Info:

A single day pass is between 100-120 UAH (~$3.80-$4.50), depending on what time of day you go, while a monthly pass is 1,700 UAH (~$64).

Phone number: +380 67 711 0496
(They are also responsive on Facebook Messenger)

Hours:
Monday-Friday: 3:00-9:00PM
Saturday, Sunday: 11:00AM-8:00PM

About Lviv:
Lviv is a fascinating city with a long and complicated history. It is on the western edge of Ukraine and is one of the cultural centers of the country. There is beautiful architecture from the Hapsburg days, vast parks throughout the city, and a lively tourist scene with many restaurants and bars.

Resources: 

The Wall website
Facebook page

Enter the Void

I met a guy. He climbs for his daughter. 

He’s an immigrant and has to leave the country in a month. His two years are up but his daughter will stay. A home divided.

For years he scrapped to come to America from the place where Europe and Asia meet–or separate, depending on your perspective. He felt it might provide a better opportunity for his kin. He’s still not sure.

His wife had studied in the U.S., even earned a green card at one point, and then relinquished it years ago. Circumstances. Something about not being able to afford to come back for the legal work. They tried to make it this time around, but the two years wasn’t enough.

I met a guy. He climbs for his daughter, and to grapple with the upcoming calculus: The subtraction of 3-1.




Haruki Murakami was asked about why he runs, because as a prolific writer he also has an avidity for marathons. Both are grueling endurance activities, it makes sense. Anywho, over the past few decades, on average, he has runs 6-miles-a-day-6-days-a-week. He turned his response into a book, but that’s not important. 

This is: He says he runs to create a void. He runs to not think. 

I can relate. These days, climbing is the only activity that cores out quietude in a muddled mental world. Running used to. Hiking has, on occasion. But climbing is the only tranquil place for me.

So what goes on when I climb? Nothing much beyond what’s in front of me. It is silence, deeply satisfying and desperately needed sometimes.




Photo source: UKC

If life is like a narrative, sadness is a theme in mine.

Perhaps I’m prone to be low, to live with a mild depression. I don’t find it difficult to get out of bed or question my existence, but often my experience is tinged with the dour. The sadness is like a cat in a city alley, always sneaking around in the background. 

I’m sure this is part of the human condition. I know from talking with people and seeing it in others. But so consistently? I’m not certain.

Climbing happens to bring joy, but at minimum it creates a space for the heart to catch its breath for a bit. Like the cool down after Murakami’s latest 6 miler.




The guy at the gym is quite a skilled climber. It’s like art, he dances

We recognize beauty, probably evolved an eye for it. Its hard to explain but you know it when you see it—a symmetrical face, a flower backed by gilded rays—what I’m trying to say is, his climbing is beautiful. Fluid movements flow into each other like a waterfall in reverse. Struggle is non-existent, his toes float by without a sound. It’s like he bends space so that every motion lands exactly where it needs to be on a wall that comes to him. No wasted breath. No extra effort. The flight of a bird.

I call him The Dancer.

Another climber and I were talking about him, The Dancer. “I asked him, how long have you been here today?,” he tells me.

The Dancer replied, “4-5 hours.”

“Whoa, man, how many days a week do you climb?,” the man followed up.

“4-5 days,” The Dancer said.

The guy’s eyes are bright, and he speaks to me as if we’re sharing a secret, “Well I guess we know why he’s so good!” He’s practically winking at me.

I’m not sure the guy thought to ask, “Why do you climb so much?” Maybe he knows and didn’t know that I know, so we talked about facts and not whys. 

I had spoken to The Dancer before and I did ask why. I learned of his need to create a void. But I touched on a sharp edge that left tender fingers.

“I need to go climb now, I’m starting to think about my daughter,” he said. His eyes were dim, glassy, with salted water damming at the edges.

“I’m sorry, man,” was all I could muster.




Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

It’s not about avoiding the pain in your life, per se, to seek these spaces of solace. But I can understand the need to go there to give your damned mind and heart a break.

The Dancer seems very much in touch with the realities of his situation. And he knows he uses climbing to grapple with the pain.

After carrying around that weight all day, to be able to unshackle at the gym must feel like an Atlassian weight off the back. I imagine that’s why it looks like he floats right along.




Some days are dark and heavy, others we buoy like a butterfly.

Whether we move through the world in flight or on all fours, we do so with what we have, where we are, and with our own ways of coping.

For what it’s worth, I hope we are all so lucky to find a place of peace, if just for a few hours. 




Feature photo by Dorothy Lin on Unsplash

Gravity Climbing Centre Dublin, Ireland: Where Climbers Meet

At Dublin’s first public climbing gym, climbers meet, get married and have children. It’s that kind of place: Like the Cheers of climbing spots.

The gym, Gravity Climbing Centre, sits in an office park on the south-west side of Dublin, tucked in the back in an old warehouse. It is a large and square building, split down the middle, the other side housing the Church of God. With the high ceilings of Gravity, the communal gatherings, and euphoria-inducing rock alters one might wonder which space feels more spiritual.

But, before I made these observations, I had to get there. 

Photo source: Gravity Climbing

“Why are there never signs?,” I wondered to myself, while peevishly looking this way and that. 

On the walk from the tram, I had passed a woman in a bright yellow jumper. She was now coming down the sidewalk. “Excuse me, do you know where the gym is?,” I asked. She looked ready to quicken her pace, pretend to ignore me. But her fatal flaw was to make eye contact and she offered a quizzical smile. 

“Sorry, what?” She said, turning her ear towards me.

“Do you know where the climbing gym is? Rock climbing?” I mimed reaching up towards holds, which probably looked rather like trying to vigorously ascend a ladder, or doggy paddling the air.

“Oh, it’s this way!,” she exclaimed, and we trotted off making small talk.

Turns out we were both getting back into climbing after a two month break, with mixed success in readjusting to the high life. Out front, two-story tall glass windows vibrated to upbeat indie music and unveiled a luminescent picture frame of athletic looking people athleting about on the walls.

She showed me where to check in then sidled up to a friend.

Vibe:

Superlative one: Community

“It’s hard to walk around Dublin without running into someone from Gravity,” Zoe, a climbing instructor manning the front desk, notes. She’s been there since it opened in 2010 (or was it 2011? She can’t remember), first as a member and now as staff. 

“That seems like a good indicator for a strong community,” I offer. 

The gym is deep, cavernous. Chalk dust hangs in the air and mixes with the fluorescent lights sparkling above. Conversation hums. There’s an energy about.

People smile, jokes fly (as do people performing dynos), and you can tell everyone is genuinely enjoying themselves. 

“It’s sort of become a social space that’s beyond just a climbing wall. And there are groups that have formed here that have become more than just friends that climb together.”

“It’s definitely something more than what it is, somehow.”

“How so?,” I ask

Zoe takes a breath to think, “It’s pretty varied [the people], which is what I like about climbing; It’s an activity that brings everyone together rather than an identity, so you get all sorts who are just here to do the same thing: Climbing.”

And that leads to variety, unexpected emergent properties, marriage. Zoe would tell me how several couples have gotten hitched and are now having kids. I wondered if the happy duos finished their gym session then went next door to tie the knot, all giddy on endorphins and post-climb sugary protein bars.


Climbing:

Superlative two: Route-setting

Gravity’s website suggests, “It’s all about exceptionally good route-setting.” I’d agree.

The climbing is diverse, though it centers around crimps, edges, slopers, pinches and technical movements at the higher grades. It’s not heavy on dynos or acrobatic style. With that said, the routes are interesting and coax the brain into problem-solving mode. There is quite a bit of vertical wall space, along with a few caves and overhanging sections, which allows for diversity in style.

Zoe adds, “The setting is very good. That is something they’ve”—the owners—”always put special emphasis on.”

“Going from indoors to outdoors, people who have started here… [and who have transitioned to] outside, it’s remarkable to see how quickly they take to rock, and the technique. I think the style here translates well to climbing outdoors.”

“Do you think this is intentional?,” I inquire.

“The owners were climbers for years and years in Ireland, and I think they were very tapped into what the community needed and what they needed out of a gym. They’ve always consistently been able to make it a really nice atmosphere.” 

It shows.

Can you make the grade?


Amenities:

They’ve got the basics covered: A small training area with a hang board, systems board and a literal handful of weights (kettlebells). There is a large common area ala cafe seating on a veranda, looking out onto the climbing. You can purchase assorted snacks, such as mega-sized protein oatmeal bars, shakes, and coffee. They also have a small retail footprint with pants, shoes, shirts, and other odds and ends.

One thing I hadn’t seen before, they feature a set traverse route that runs the length of the gym. Zoe shares, “One of the guys who climbs regularly here offered to sponsor it. He’s with Foil Arms & Hog (a comedy group).”

“They are fantastic.” She laughs. “He offered to sponsor it because he really likes traversing.”

For beginners, there are drop-in group coaching sessions on Mondays.


How to Get There:

Buses (13, 69) and the Red Line on the tram are easy to pick up in downtown (Temple Bar/ Trinity College area) and stop less than a 5 minute walk from the gym.

Walk into the compound, past Rascals Brewing and it will be up on the right.

Address:

6a, Goldenbridge Industrial Estate, Inchicore, Dublin 8, Ireland
Google Maps


Info:

Monday 12–10PM 
Tuesday 12–10PM Tuesday 12–10PM 
Wednesday 12–10PM
Thursday 12–10PM 
Friday 12–10PM 
Saturday 10AM–8PM 
Sunday 10AM–8PM 

Price: 
9 EUR / 10.24 USD (8 EUR / 9.10 USD off-peak*) + 5 EUR / 5.69 USD for first-time registration.
Shoes are 3.5 EUR / 4 USD to rent.

*Peak time is 5pm to 10pm Monday to Friday and all day at Weekends.


Resources:

Website
Facebook page



Feature photo courtesy of Gravity Climbing Centre

SKAI Urban Crag: The Boulderer’s Gym in Cluj Napoca, Romania

SKAI is a play on the English word “sky” and the Romanian “scaiete,” (Cirsium vulgare) a common thistle that sprouts a vibrant pink and purple rosette, and which is one of the most bountiful nectar producers across Europe. 

Just like the high-stemmed namesake plant, SKAI Urban Crag offers climbers bounteous boulder problems in their pursuit of gravity defying dynos and pumpy high-flying stunts.

Tudor Cristea, 27, is one of three co-founders and he chatted with me about the gym. He looks like a Romanian Chris Sharma complete with shaggy locks and just-throw-it-on beanie. He relayed his interest in starting the gym, and what makes it unique, “The routes in our gym are very bouldery [in contrast to the other gyms in Cluj], not so classical with crimps. We use more volumes, and for the crux we use boulder moves.”

The gym itself is flowering in its second year, just like the scaiete.

Vibe:

Upon entering the space you feel right away what they are about: The place is bright and radiates with popping neon colors. It is welcoming and attractive.

Actually, because it’s in an industrial park, and tucked around the back of the complex (without signage guiding the way), it feels like you’re descending upon a secret pop-up shop. It has a sort of underground coolness.

Rounding the corner in the parking lot, the one-person trailer across from the entrance is a giveaway that dirtbags are nearby. Once inside, the lounge area is a mix of urban-industrial chic, handmade elements, succulents (because of course), those lights with dangly wires, and a big fridge of beer (nice).

Each time I went there were throngs of devotees climbing about, and people were friendly—in fact, climbers actually came up to me to chat (which Poland, if you’re reading this, try taking some notes). There was a mix of beginners to more advanced (for example, a guy was climbing a 6a route, lead, without using his feet at all), and plenty of space and problems for everyone.

Membership is made up of a core group, according to Cristea, “Our customers are very, very good friends with us. With our crew, we are about 40 people. We all go together to go climbing, outdoor or indoor.”

They often travel together, having recently visited Berlin just to check out the gyms. You don’t hear that every day. 

Bouldery lead routes

Climbing:

The routes on the lead wall cluster around 6a-6b and 7a. There are typically 30-40 routes at any given time and only three top rope lines permanently set. I hadn’t seen this before, and liked the idea of emphasizing lead. The walls are 10m high.

Upstairs there’s a big systems board and an inclined wall chock full of holds if you’re there to train, and just train, and then train some more.

Amenities:

Yoga, hangboards, rings, TRX, campus board, some free weights, resistance bands, a clean changing room and shower.

How to Get There:

The only downside is that the gym is a bit far from the center of the city. The 31 and M31 bus will get you there from downtown. Uber is available in Cluj Napoca if you want to make it super easy on yourself.

Once you enter the gate, walk to the back right corner of the park to find the gym.

Address:

Calea Baciului 1-3, Cluj-Napoca 40023
Google maps

Info:

Hours:
Monday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Tuesday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Wednesday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Thursday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Friday 4–10PM
Saturday 3–7PM
Sunday 3–7PM

Price: 30 lei for a day pass (about $7.16 or 6.32 EUR)

Resources:

SKAI Urban Crag website
Facebook page

Cirsium vulgare. Photo source: Wikipedia