Climbing a way to enjoy city’s high life

Nanaimo's Romper Room climbing gym has routes that are renowned across the country.

Terran Tucker-Strashok makes his way up the wall at the Romper Room indoor climbing centre.

Terran Tucker-Strashok makes his way up the wall at the Romper Room indoor climbing centre.

In Nanaimo, the top of the world must be somewhere around the rafters at the Romper Room indoor climbing centre.

Maybe the crest of the climbing wall, eight metres (27 feet) up, isn’t technically the top of the world, but it’s pretty high up there. And yet toddlers as young as two, grandmothers as old as 90, even mild-mannered News Bulletin sports reporters have successfully scaled the walls.

“We’re not a bunch of crazy yahoos trying to kill ourselves – it’s safe and fun,” said Aaron Hamilton, who has owned the Romper Room for eight years and has been climbing for 20.

Amid the 7,500 square feet of surface area at the Boban Road gym, there are countless climbs, using three basic methods. There is top roping, which is ascending a route while tied to the top. There is the more advanced lead climbing, which is bringing a rope from the bottom and clipping it continually on the way up. Finally, there is bouldering, which involves climbing just a little ways up the wall, without any rope.

“You can come in and have a good time at whatever difficulty level suits you,” Hamilton said. “It’s only about you. It’s not about competing with anybody else. Whether you get to the top of the wall or you only make it halfway up, it’s really easy to see your own progression and measure your successes.”

There isn’t a lot of know-how or equipment needed to try the sport. Climbing shoes, which intentionally force feet into an arc, might make a beginner feel like Cinderella’s stepsister, but they make for stronger, no-slip footholds. A harness keeps the rope securely attached to the waist.

Routes up the wall are marked with degrees of difficulty – 5.6 is the easiest, 5.12-plus is the toughest – then colour coded all the way to the ceiling. Climbers only need to identify the next handhold, push themselves up with their feet, and advance.

The handholds might seem a little more precarious near the top, but they aren’t – it’s just fear of heights and that fades into the background as the climber becomes preoccupied. The hardest part might be letting go of the top of the wall for the first time and trusting in the belayer – the person at the other end of the rope – to guide a gentle descent.

First-time climbers will need to book an introductory session at least a day in advance, but anyone can come in and go bouldering. The Romper Room offers programs and courses for all ages and skill levels, including outdoor climbing opportunities.

There’s always something new at the centre, too. Staff, with the input of other climbers, are continually moving around the holds to create new bouldering ‘problems’ or just to keep things fresh.

“The routes we build, the challenges that we have here are pretty renowned around Canada,” Hamilton said.

When he climbs, sometimes he’ll choose a simple route; sometimes, a physical exertion. Sometimes he wants a bouldering brain-teaser; sometimes he climbs to clear his mind. Climbing can be any sort of sport he wants it to be.

“It’s really good for building confidence; it’s really good for learning problem-solving skills,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned from climbing I’ve been able to put into other aspects of my life.”

For more information on the Romper Room, search Facebook, visit or call 250-751-ROCK.

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