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Still Higher to Climb

Boise's newest climbing gym is on the rise on The Bench


In the spring of 2018, Boise lost an important climbing institution, Urban Ascent—for years it was an oasis for Boise's growing community of climbers. With that sudden turn of events, regulars at the gym had an idea: to found their own climbing gym.

That new gym, The Commons, is set to open in mid- to late-November, and was designed by and for, well, climbers.

"We received hundreds of requests from people who frequented the gym to start a new one and, essentially, decided that we were probably the best people to take that challenge on," said Clint Colwell, the former manager of Urban Ascent who came to Boise from Missoula, Montana, to study geophysics at Boise State University.

He and a handful of other climbers, including Urban Ascent regulars Mary and Scott DeWalt, board members of the Boise Climbers Alliance for over a decade; Brian Crozier, a veteran climber who has climbed nationally and internationally; Kirk Miller, a medical doctor who was a regular at Urban; and Brandon Beagles, an Idaho native and avid rock, ice and mountain climber, all jumped on board to start a new gym almost immediately after Urban Ascent's closing.

With the support of his community behind him, Colwell and other co-founders began the difficult job of finding space and funds for the gym within Boise proper. Colwell found that commercial real estate in downtown was practically non-existent. Eventually, the group would find the gym's new home at 4795 W. Emerald St. with the help of financing from Idaho First Bank, a location just 10 minutes from downtown.

To reflect the community support behind the venture, Colwell and the other co-founders settled on the name The Commons.

"We knew the name had to be something related to community because the community was our inspiration for doing this," Colwell said. "We wanted to come up with something that embodied how important the people were to us."

Colwell describes his vision of The Commons as being a place that is welcoming to everyone, whether that someone wants to kill 20 minutes over the lunch hour climbing, see a friendly face, share some exciting news or make a new friend.

At its very root, The Commons aims to be a place of gathering and belonging to the community it serves. Much like Urban Ascent, the founders want to create a unique space where patrons can really feel the difference in friendliness and warmth. Comprised of two connected buildings, The Commons space will feature sport climbing, bouldering, fitness equipment, yoga and climbing training equipment.

The gym will have 14,500 square feet of climbing, with approximately 200 roped routes 45 feet in height, 60 rope anchors and 45-foot crack climbs ranging in size. The gym will also have several auto-belays.

One of the Commons' more unique features will be its focus on teaching skills for people to climb outside. A ledge will be built 25 feet up the wall with room for three or four people to learn how to build and clean anchors, rappel and practice multi-pitch climbing techniques.

The bouldering at the gym will feature about 100 routes of a height of 13 feet, about one-third of the number of boulder problems at the competing gym, Asana.

For rock climbing-specific training, The Commons will feature a MoonBoard, treadwall, fingerboards and campus boards, as well as some fitness equipment. At the end of the building will be a large, multi-purpose studio with its own storage, bathroom and entrance, which will be used for things like yoga, physical therapy, dance classes and more.

There will also be a space for Bench House Brewery, one of Boise's newest brewpubs, so climbers looking to grab a beer hang out after a session at the gym.

The opening of The Commons has been pushed back from the founders' original hopes to open earlier in the fall. Colwell hopes to have the gym either completed or do a phased opening by late-October to mid-November.

"Construction is what construction is so we feel like we'll be happy if we're open by the end of the year," Colwell said.

Budgetary constraints have put pressure on the team to the point that Colwell and the other founders have personally been doing work on the construction since May of this year. The money ran out before the crew behind the gym could buy one of the most important elements of a climbing gym: climbing holds. The Commons has responded to the challenge by throwing a "hold drive," asking for donations to fund the necessary equipment.

Raising funds is a heavy lift for the fledgling gym, and 14,500 square feet of climbing surface requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment. The Commons is selling everything from t-shirts, day passes and bumper stickers to routes, plaques and more to continue.