5 of the World’s Coolest Artificial Climbing Walls

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Arti­fi­cial climb­ing walls will nev­er replace the real thing in the hearts of climbers. Nev­er­the­less, many of the world’s arti­fi­cial climb­ing walls are daz­zling spec­ta­cles of inge­nu­ity and engi­neer­ing. Here are five of the world’s coolest.

Base­camp | Reno, NV
Claim to Fame: The World’s Tallest Arti­fi­cial Rock Wall
Of course the world’s tallest arti­fi­cial rock wall is in Reno, that ersatz oasis of sin. Engulf­ing one entire side of the Comm­Row build­ing in down­town Reno, Basecamp’s out­door wall is 164 feet tall. From the top, you’ll have a unique per­spec­tive on one of America’s most unique cities — you’ll be 200 feet above city’s world famous Wel­come to Reno sign. Inside, Base­camp also has 7,000 square feet of boul­der­ing space.

Ice Fac­tor | Kin­lochleven, Scot­land
Claim to Fame: The World’s Biggest Indoor Ice Climb­ing Wall
Rock climb­ing is easy to sim­u­late in a gym. Ice climb­ing — using the sharp ends of ice tools and cram­pons to ascend walls of ice — is more dif­fi­cult. Plas­tic can’t with­stand hacks from sharp­ened axes. Ice is dif­fi­cult to sim­u­late, which is why gyms like Ice Fac­tor in Scot­land use the real thing. Over 50 tons of ice and snow are used to con­struct their walls, which are kept cold with a cool­ing sys­tem run­ning inside of them. Route set­ters mold the shape of the snow and ice to cre­ate routes of vary­ing dif­fi­cul­ty.

Psi­cobloc Wall | Orig­i­nat­ed in Bil­boa, Spain and com­ing to Salt Lake City, Utah
Claim to Fame: Arti­fi­cial Deep Water Solo Wall
Deep water solo­ing — the act of climb­ing above deep bod­ies of water to pro­tect your­self from falling — is becom­ing increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar. In 2010, the world’s first deep water solo com­pe­ti­tion, won by Chris Shar­ma, was held in Spain. A 50 foot tall wall was con­struct­ed over the Bil­boa Estu­ary, into which the con­tes­tants fell if they could not climb the entire wall. The wall was dis­man­tled after the com­pe­ti­tion end­ed, and this year, it will see its first US com­pe­ti­tion in Utah from July 30–August 2 at the Utah Olympic Park’s 750,000-gallon freestyle aer­i­al train­ing pool.

Hold­is­tic | Edmond, OK
Claim to Fame: Free Solo Rock Climb­ing Wall
Hold­is­tic had the nov­el idea of sim­u­lat­ing the thrill of free solo rock climb­ing in the safe envi­ron­ment of a gym. Climbers would ascend as high as they could on an over­hang­ing 30 foot wall, and safe­ly fall into a foam pit below if they got tired. No ropes need­ed. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Hold­is­tic appears to be closed now.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Rock | Seat­tle, WA
Claim to Fame: One of the First Arti­fi­cial Out­door Walls
Unlike the oth­er walls on this list, the Rock, as it’s pop­u­lar­ly called, was NOT cre­at­ed to make mon­ey. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton admin­is­tra­tion cre­at­ed it to fore­stall crime. In the 1970’s, about when climb­ing began its first mas­sive surge in pop­u­lar­i­ty, the out­law ethos of climb­ing inter­sect­ed with the counter-cul­ture. The new climb­ing bums did­n’t care about tra­di­tion­al soci­etal bounds or author­i­ty, like the uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tion. In Seat­tle, these peo­ple treat­ed the build­ings on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton’s cam­pus like a climber train­ing ground.

They even wrote a guide to climb­ing the build­ings on cam­pus (which you can check out at the UW library.) The uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tion was fed up with these climbers, so they built a con­crete escarp­ment for them to climb instead. Real rocks were placed into its five dif­fer­ent walls, pro­vid­ing holds for climbers, in a struc­ture that looks like an abstract sculp­ture. Climbers con­tin­ue to flock to the Rock, as it is par­tic­u­lar­ly well regard­ed as a place to hone crack climb­ing tech­nique.