There’s no question that climbing shit was the bizness when you were a kid—from trees to monkey bars to your neighbour’s rooftop (oops). But as adults, it’s easy to forget how much fun it is to embrace your inner monkey, or re-enact scenes from ‘Cliffhanger’.
Well, stuff that, we say. If the only thing you’ve been climbing lately is stairs, it’s time to check out some of Melbourne’s indoor climbing venues. From rock climbing to bouldering to clip ‘n’ climb (what?!), we’ve got you covered next time you want to reach crazy new heights.
But first, a warning: climbing is an intense workout and you WILL feel it the next day. Take someone with you to ‘spot’ you and reduce your feelings of nervousness. Don’t wear rings or wrist jewellery, and don’t try to get too acrobatic straight away.
Do make as many puns as possible about being stuck between a rock and a hard place, or feeling like your reach exceeds your grasp.
Melbourne's first dedicated bouldering gym, The Lactic Factory is a community-minded studio just off Hoddle Street in Collingwood. What is bouldering, you ask? Well, it’s like rock climbing, but performed without the use of ropes and harnesses. The walls are low, rarely above 5-6m high, and slope at all angles. The challenge is to scramble up them using different-sized resin rocks to support your body weight as you complete short but tricky climbing ‘problems’.
Lactic Factory’s walls are 3.8m high and range in gradient from a gentle 10-degrees to a brutal 60-degrees. They’re surrounded by cushy crash mats and each climbing ‘problem’ is colour-coded according to difficulty. There’s room to stretch in between sets and chalkbags to keep your palms dry.
The staff are super friendly, and operate a little café with quality coffee and light snacks to keep you going. Shoes are available for hire (although you can be cheap and wear your own), and there are some cool old speakers pumping out ambient tunes that are perfect for climbing.
Lactic Factory has a sister site in Brunswick (more on that below), and offer dual memberships to both venues. They also run free coaching for beginners every Sunday from 10am-1pm, a Girls Night every Monday, and regular slacklining workshops.
The newly established Northside Boulders sits on Victoria Street in Brunswick, just off Sydney Road, and about two minutes walk from Brunswick station. It’s run by the friendly crew from the Lactic Factory and has a similar laidback vibe. The walls are a bit higher—up to 4.5m high—and the space is about three times the size. In fact, it was formerly a drug farm which was raided by police shortly before the bouldering community moved in… but that’s another story.
These days, it’s a buzzing hive of sweaty activity, with walls angled from 10-degrees to holy-shit-that’s-horizontal. There’s also an ever-expanding range of training equipment, and a great spot out the back for BBQs over summer. Most of the climbing routes or ‘problems’ are set by volunteers from within the community, which means that the challenges are always varied and unique.
Northside Boulders is still settling into their space so there are no dedicated free coaching sessions yet, but rest assured they’re working on it (along with a pneumatic tube taco delivery system that will allow tacos to be shot from the taqueria next door straight into the bouldering area. Just kidding—sorry!)
Burnley Bouldering Wall
Yeah, it’s not indoors, but we couldn’t not include it on this list and maintain any sort of street cred. The Burnley Bouldering Wall is a community-built and funded wall on the Main Yarra Trail that’s accessible 24/7. The Monash Freeway overhead roars with traffic and the floating pontoon bridge trembles as the semi-trailers rumble over. You can get there by car, bicycle or tram—there are detailed instructions here. An information board at the end of the main wall outlines the route grading system from beginner to intermediate to advanced.
If you go at night (and let’s be honest, that’s the funnest time to go), the walls are lit up and you’ll need to observe some basic urban climbing etiquette. For example, give way to the first person on the wall and don’t do lots of laps when it’s busy. Bring thin-soled climbing shoes so you don’t pass your tinea on to other climbers, and bring your own chalk as well. The area is under shelter and the walls have soft rubber matting underneath them, but you might want to bring warm clothing and your own crash pad, too.
Okay, so back to the traditional form of rock climbing—the one where the walls go up and up and up. Hardrock is a Swanston Street institution where your entry fee will cover a whole day’s unlimited climbing with pass-outs available and a short introductory session included for newbies. The instructors offer beginner and advanced courses as well as one-on-one tuition for those who want to take their climbing to a Spiderman-style level, and they happily accommodate group bookings.
Within the main space, there are two walls, one for top-roping and one for lead climbing, as well as areas for slab-climbing and ‘crack’ climbs (which are rigged with hand jams instead of regular holds). If all of this sounds a little confusing or overwhelming, don’t worry, because the instructors will explain everything you need to know upon your arrival.
Hardrock’s gear shop sells harnesses, shoes and chalkbags if you want to bring your own and save on the entry fee, as well as equipment for advanced climbers like karibiners, ropes and belay devices. Currently they’re trialing early morning climbing sessions, but until they’ve been approved, visit between noon and 10pm on weekdays or 11am and 7pm on weekends.
Named after Sylvester Stallone’s Alpine adventure film ‘Cliffhanger’ (actually, we have no idea if that’s true, but it seems possible), this complex is Australia’s tallest indoor climbing gym, with walls stretching 20m high. It’s a great place to try lots of different climbing styles and techniques—Cliffhanger has over 70 walls, two separate bouldering areas, dedicated zones for ‘crack’ climbs and a dozen lead climbing walls set by some of the best route setters in the Southern Hemisphere.
Plus, they recently set up an outdoor slackline so you can test your tightrope skills, and you can even try freefalling on rope by abseiling off a vertical rock wall from a 20m high platform. Hell yeah!
The staff are super lovely and an endless source of wisdom about how to master basic climbing movements and improve your footwork. Plus, they understand one of the purest loves in life—every Monday and Friday is Doughnut Night!
Cliffhanger is situated inside the Westgate Sports & Entertainment complex on Grieve Parade, which is about a 20 minute drive from the CBD or a 40 minute train-and-bus combo on public transport. Your entry fee covers a whole day’s climbing, and there are bargain price packages for gear hire.
Clip 'N' Climb
The name sort of gives away the game here—clip-on climbing is a form of rock climbing where you clip the rope onto the wall as you ascend, thus eliminating the need of a secondary person belaying you. The automated belay device picks up the slack as you ascend and controls the descent when you reach the top or comically fall.
It means multiple climbers can scale the wall at once and that you don’t have to rely on having a belay partner or spotter every time you want to scale a wall. Clip ‘N’ Climb in Richmond is a pretty visually arresting arena. There are 37 different climbing challenges plus two hardcore, adrenaline-pumping feats called ‘Leap of Faith’ and ‘Vertical Drop Slide’.
Entry is priced by the hour and includes a 15 minute safety briefing and climbing harness. There’s onsite parking and a café, and you can expect to see a few kids parties here as it’s a family friendly venue. But that’s all the better for you—no matter how crap your climbing skills are, they’re unlikely to be as crap as a six-year olds. Get there by jumping on the #70 tram along Bridge Road and be sure to take running shoes—they don’t have shoes or socks for hire.
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Image credit: Cliffhanger Facebook