Climbing through COVID: High Country climbers thrive amidst the pandemic


Samuel Cooke

Daelan, an avid climber in Boone, NC, is able to keep strong during the bouldering season by climbing with a mask on at Center 45 on October 1.

Tucker Wulff, Reporter

Amidst a global pandemic, when many view sports teams and athletic events as a serious risk due to outbreaks in professional and collegiate franchises, the climbing community in the High Country is thriving indoors and out. 

Daniel Gajda, an App State alumni and professional climbing photographer, said while there are aspects of the climbing industry that are hurting, in general, the pandemic hasn’t deterred the sport. 

“The climbing industry has just been growing exponentially over the last couple of years,” Gajda said. “I haven’t seen the growth stop.” 

Though policies and rules of operation have changed at the climbing gym in the App State Student Recreation Center and Center 45, an indoor bouldering gym in Boone, both reported positive results with enthusiastic patrons happy to follow the new safety guidelines. 

Center 45 is operating under a limited capacity and changed to a “members-only” status. 

Aaron Parlier, general manager and co-owner of Center 45, said the gym chose to restrict its capacity as a service to those dedicated to the gym who would otherwise potentially have to compete for a reserved space inside. 

“That kind of limits the folks that will be in the gym to people who are, at the very least, a student at App State or someone who lives in the western North Carolina area,” Parlier said, “versus someone rolling in from wherever just because it’s raining outside.”

The climbing wall in the App State SRC is operating under a limited capacity of five climbers per 90-minute pre-registered session. As of Sept. 29, Outdoor Programs, the office in charge of the climbing wall, is limiting climbers to bouldering with no top rope or lede climbing available.

Members at Center 45 must wait to have their temperature taken before they enter the gym. (Samuel Cooke)

Despite limitations, however, sessions in the SRC’s space are often completely filled, Robert Riddle, coordinator for Outdoor Programs, wrote in an email. 

“Climbers have been excited to get back in the gym,” Riddle said, “and our staff is excited to be back working at the wall.” 

Similarly, members of Center 45 have been happy to be back in the gym even with extra safety precautions like wearing masks, socially distancing and frequently washing their hands, Parlier said. 

“This indoor environment was shut down for 100 days, lock and key,” Parlier said. “Folks in right now are very happy to have a space that’s back open. I’m in here basically four days out of the week, and I’m yet to encounter someone that came in that had an issue.”  

Climbers are also testing their skills safely outside throughout the pandemic. Parlier said when the lockdown first started, climbing gym closures pushed people to find outside climbing spots.

Though Center 45 sees fewer climbers when the weather is nice, Parlier said that is exactly what he hopes for. 

“I’m never disappointed whenever I come into the gym, and it’s beautiful outside, and it’s empty,” he said. “That, to me, is one of the most incredible things about being here in the High Country.” 

Carter Smith, youth coach and assistant manager at Center 45, said he thinks climbing is still thriving because it combines community, exercise and a meditative outlet all in one activity. 

“I always joke that climbing is like a mix between gymnastics and ballet, both an art form as well as a physical sport,” Smith said.