A garage that rocks

Alaska couple fashions climbing gym at home

Charlee Gribbon works through a problem on one of the walls in her home climbing gym. Gribbon built indoor climbing walls in her garage in Juneau, Alaska, so she could pursue her passion of climbing year-round. Enlarge photo

AMANDA COMPTON, Capital City Weekly/AP

Charlee Gribbon works through a problem on one of the walls in her home climbing gym. Gribbon built indoor climbing walls in her garage in Juneau, Alaska, so she could pursue her passion of climbing year-round.

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – Writing a thesis, completing a crossword puzzle, configuring the ultimate setup for a home recycling center – the lure and excitement of getting it done keeps challenges we choose to attempt to conquer a revolving door. For some, adding a physical component to our endeavors is both addicting and cathartic.

Juneau resident Charlee Gribbon chooses to appease her thirst for physical activity and challenges through climbing. Specifically, Gribbon pursues the subgenre of bouldering, a type of climbing that doesn’t require much gear beyond shoes and crash pads.

“Part of the allure, and what pleases and keeps people so interested in bouldering is the aspect of figuring out a problem,” Gribbon said.

The “problem” that Gribbon refers to is the series of moves required to finish a specific route.

The climbing scene around Juneau is still taking off. New boulders and rock faces adequate for climbing are in a constant state of discovery. With winter preventing outdoor climbing, and the interest of having her passion accessible, Gribbon’s solution was to build a climbing wall in her house.

Gribbon and her partner, also an avid climber, purchased a home in the Mendenhall Valley a few years ago. Their main specification in their house hunting process was a two-car garage.

“Basically, that’s all we had in mind,” Gribbon said. The couple found a house, which Gribbon describes as “a penthouse apartment above a garage. It’s perfect.” They signed the paperwork on Earth Day 2010.

Since then, they have developed a majority of the walls and part of the ceiling of their garage into a haven for indoor bouldering. And they can still pull in a car.

Gribbon and her partner have experience building indoor walls. They started collecting holds in 2004, when they built their first wall in a garage in Anchorage. When they later moved to Juneau, they built one in their first rental. When they were working on the garage of their current house, they realized how much they had lucked out. The house had been built by a contractor, and their garage was sturdier than average.

“These walls are sheetrock, then plywood, then metal studs, then plywood and then sheet rock, wrapped in insulation,” Gribbon said. “There were no studs to find, but you could drill anywhere.”

Additionally, the ceiling was constructed with I-beams; something Gribbon said usually is used only in industrial buildings.

“It made it harder to find where (we) could drill but gives it structural integrity,” she said.

There’s also no middle beam or supporting wall in their garage, opening up the space they had to work with.

Their first autumn in the new house, they began building a 12-by-12-foot wall with a 45- to 50-degree overhang that runs from floor to ceiling, using sections of 8-by-4-foot plywood. The next year, they built a wall on the opposing side of the garage at a 15-degree angle. They now also have a vertical climbing wall against the back of the garage plus a ceiling wall.

Along the way, they began constructing carefully planned routes. Gribbon explained that one of the fun parts of constructing a home gym is the selection of routes. It’s like a blank canvas.

“Is like a brain tease,” Gribbon said. “It’s like paint for an artist. You need all these different features and textures and different kinds of holds.”

Gribbon sat on her garage floor, entirely covered with crash pads, pointing out different routes.

“As a route setter, you try and force a move that you can only get to by holding a certain type of body position,” she said. “As someone who’s put up the routes and liked them, it’s kind of like art. How would someone else interpret my route?”

One of the enticing challenges she finds comes from watching others climb.

“You see a move somebody does, and you want to create it in your gym. You can learn a lot by watching other people do things,” Gribbon said. “You can mimic people move.”

There is a level of dedication required to simply be strong enough to continue to grow as a climber.

“It’s hard; it takes a long time to develop the endurance and the technique to make moves efficient,” Gribbon said. “Some people have natural ability where they get that positive feedback; others, it takes more work.”

Having an indoor bouldering gym is a luxury that Gribbon and her partner recognize, and one they’d like to extend.

“Getting people over here was always our goal,” she said. “It’s taken awhile to get good routes in the walls and have enough of a finished product to have enough routes to keep people interested.”

The couple also hasn’t lost sight about why they spend so much time inside a garage.

“It’s never the highlight of climbing, it’s just to get a workout in,” Gribbon said, in order to keep strong for outdoor climbing. “You definitely get a workout. You’re not standing around waiting for someone else to climb.”

Charlee Gribbon ascends a route on one of her home climbing walls. Enlarge photo

AMANDA COMPTON, Capital City Weekly/Associated Pre

Charlee Gribbon ascends a route on one of her home climbing walls.

Charlee Gribbon’s garage is filled with climbing walls, and she can still fit a car inside. Enlarge photo

AMANDA COMPTON, Capital City Weekly/Associated Pre

Charlee Gribbon’s garage is filled with climbing walls, and she can still fit a car inside.