Idaho is perfect for bouldering. The state’s geological history includes massive deposits of magma that shape the landscape all along the Snake River Plain. Ancient super floods and the Snake River have carved canyons and filled them with large basalt boulders offering climbers the chance to practice the sport they love without the need for a partner or a slew of expensive equipment.
People have told me that bouldering is less intimidating than climbing with a rope. I’m not sure if I agree. Even though there are nice pillowy crash pads all along the base of the shorter walls at Asana gym in Garden City, a fall from a higher section could result in a nice broken ankle.
A Twist of Climbing Fate
Most of Asana’s climbing space is dedicated to bouldering, but this Treasure Valley climbing staple almost never made it to Idaho. Asana owner Rory O’Leary never intended to open a gym here. Instead, he had planned to open a climbing gym in Germany where he’d lived as an exchange student.
But before he could get that gym off of the ground, somebody else beat him to the punch and started their own gym.
“Unfortunately, the demographic wasn’t large enough to support both gyms,” O’Leary said. “I ended up coming back to the states a year later to do the gym here.”
He went the bouldering route with the gym since the return on investment was better with lower startup costs, and fewer staff certification requirements.
“Bouldering also tends to be more community-oriented,” he said. “People are sitting down together and working out different routes as opposed to holding a rope and having to keep a climber from falling.”
O’Leary’s advice to those who want to get into climbing: go to a gym in the valley, try both bouldering and rope climbing, and develop friendships with other climbers who can help you improve.
To simulate different outdoor climbing scenarios, Asana has climbing terrain like their top out boulder and arch so climbers can get used to pulling themselves all the way to the top of a structure and practice in overhead terrain.
The “Father of Bouldering”
Modern bouldering at Asana and throughout the world owes much of its debt to the American John Gill. Gill’s list of achievements is pretty impressive. He was a gymnast, an Air Force veteran, a renowned mathematician and professor, and is considered by many to be the father of modern bouldering.
In the early 1950’s, Gill began to climb regularly and by the middle of that decade, he’d introduced gymnastic movements to the sport, the regular use of hand chalk for gripping, and introduced climbing problems never considered before.
“Inspired by controlled releases and catches in artistic gymnastics, I began practicing controlled dynamic moves, as a technique of choice as well as one of necessity, calling some ‘free aerials’ (dynos). ” Gill wrote in Origins of Bouldering.
This “dynamic motion” technique introduced by Gill involves using the body’s momentum to reach holds as opposed to the traditional “static” technique in which climbers where slow, controlled movement is used.
“I may well have been the first serious climber to specialize in bouldering and to promote the ‘new’ sport as a universal activity – not restricted to a particular locale – and to argue for its acceptance as a legitimate form of rock climbing,” Gill wrote.
Beyond Rock Climbing
Back at Asana, some of the gym members are honing their strength and grace doing things like aerial silk movements on the gym’s large aerial rig.
“We do silk classes, lyra (aerial hoop) classes, we also do strap classes and we are always looking for experienced instructors in this field so we can offer more classes,” O’Leary said. “We have the highest setup in the state, I believe.”
The aerial rig was integrated into the climbing gym, he said, because there was plenty of space and aerial exercises seem to go hand-in-hand with climbing.
“People who climb develop that grip strength and forearm strength and endurance which lends itself very well to anything aerial and vice-versa,” O’Leary said.
He said when an aerialist comes in to practice at Asana, they have a strength advantage over beginner climbers and may take to the sport quickly.
While I spoke with O’Leary, a young aerialist practiced with her coach, gracefully maneuvering while gripping the folds of a large red piece of silk. The young gymnast said she got into the sport after seeing an episode of America’s Got Talent.
“I like it because it’s fun and unique,” she said. “It’s very hard and you have to be very committed.”
Climbing is rigorous and takes a toll on your upper body. Asana offers some post-exercise brews for climbers who want to take a load off, discuss their technique with fellow enthusiasts and just enjoy each other’s company.
“Here in Barsana, we’ve got eight taps,” O’Leary said. “We serve kombucha and seven local craft beers. We keep our selection to local so we’re supporting other local businesses.”
There’s a sign located near the exit of Barsana which clearly states the gym’s rules regarding drinking alcohol: “Once that beer or wine hits your lips, no more grabbing the grips.”
Overall, Asana is an ideal place for climbers to head after work to blow off some steam, challenge themselves mentally and physically, and make new friends from the local climbing community.
There’s even a traditional gym area for those looking to build strength or incorporate climbing into their regular gym routine. During COVID, the gym limits occupation to 50 climbers and offers contactless show rentals.
For more information, call (208) 345-7625, visit the gym at 4977 N. Glenwood St. in Garden City, or go to www.asanaclimbinggym.com.