Meet The Crew Behind Melbourne’s Biggest Bouldering Gym

By Ellen Seah
19th Oct 2018

There’s a warm murmur of conversation, a shriek of frustration. Thumping music plays on the speakers. The distinctive sound of bodies slamming into crash mats.  

Welcome to the new Urban Climb—Victoria’s largest bouldering space.

Tucked into Collingwood’s industrial backstreets—not the graffiti, hipster kind—you have to be looking for Urban Climb to find it. Even then you’ll probably need help from our mates at Google. 

Collingwood is Urban Climb’s fourth venture, with three others already running in Brisbane. The gym spans about 1,200 square metres and includes a sun-facing yoga and fitness studio, plus a gym on the upstairs mezzanine level. 

David Fletcher, one of the owners of Urban Climb, says the space was “an old furniture manufacturing company—and not the clean kind.” 

“We pretty much had plants growing in the floor,” he says. 

None seem to have survived the refurbishment. Pastel grey crash mats cover most of the bouldering space, with hexagonal breakout areas dotted throughout the gym. Each climb is layered on asymmetric monochromatic walls, popping with bright blue accents.  

Every problem (“Climbs in bouldering are called problems,” says Dave) is graded on difficulty, starting with yellow (beginner) then blue, purple, green, red, black and finally, white (elite—good luck even getting off the ground on these climbs). Orange problems are wild cards, generally varying between intermediate and advanced intermediate. 

The gym is divided into nine stations, with seven to ten problems per station. The route setters have designed the semi-circular shaped gym in a kind of clockwise rotation, so purple climbs on the far left (as soon as you walk in the door) are likely to be easier than the purple climbs on the far right. 

“Route setting is becoming a full-time job, people travel the world to set at competitions and gyms,” Dave explains. “They set everyday and that’s all they think about. They think and talk and dream about movement.”

Three stations have new problems every fortnight, and the team plan to have an entirely fresh gym with new problems every six weeks. To put it into context, that’s like saying to a café owner that you want a completely new menu every month, until the end of time. Urban Climb has six full-time route setters across the network to keep up with this rigorous demand. 

Melbourne’s venue manager, Curtis Coulson (a good superhero name), says the style of route setting is being well received.

“Our route-setters tend to set a bit more competition style—our walls aren’t as dense climb-wise, but it gives them more freedom to make big moves, “ he says. “The worse thing for us would be if people started to get bored with the climbs. We want to keep them fresh and challenging.”

Upcoming climbs and problems coming down from the walls are displayed on posters and screens. 

The satisfaction from Urban Climb’s route setting kindles an infectious kind of energy. Clusters of chalk-dusted climbers huddle in front of a particularly tricky problem, providing advice and commentary as each takes a swipe at reaching the top. 

There’s a sympathetic groan for each climber that falls, quite literally flat on their arse (it’s safest to land with relaxed knees and roll onto your backside). But there are very few that give up after the first attempt. 

“We like to think we aren’t elitist and there aren’t tiers of climbers. Everybody can talk to everyone and everyone seems to be on the same page,” Curtis says. 

Along with 6am opening times, the team are planning an introductory climbing course, Climbing 101, for beginner and intermediate climbers in November. They also plan to host a Melbourne-based Boulderfest—a social competition open to all climbers next year.

Most notable problems at the moment

Star Factory: Orange problem. The problem requires you to run up the wall using three volumes (box-shaped holds), before grabbing onto a kidney bean-shaped orange hold and continuing the climb. 

Roofio: Green problem. Described as a hero climb, the problem is smooth and the movement and flow feels “really nice but looks really difficult”. Curtis says it’s a climb to impress people because you “look really good and feel really good”. 

Top tips for new climbers 

  • Don’t be intimidated to the different wall angles.
  • Use your legs. There’s a misconception that climbing is all about arms but it’s a lot about your legs and back. 
  • Get comfortable with falling.

Get more info about Urban Climb on their website.

Image credit: supplied

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