Story and photos by Mike O'Brien
Have you ever lifted weights at the gym? You’re holding the barbell up, sweating with your face strained. Your hands start to shake while veins that you swear you’ve never seen before are popping out of your arms. Your arms feel more and more like Jell-O by the second and you finally get it over your head. Immediately after putting it down, you feel simultaneously amazing and awful, like, “Wow, my arms hurt... but I feel like an American Gladiator because that thing was heavy and I picked it up!” That is exactly how I felt after a night at Petra Cliffs.
Petra Cliffs Climbing Center & Mountaineering School is an indoor rock climbing gym located at the south end of Burlington, Vermont. The walls of Petra Cliffs, which was once a warehouse, are covered with plastic, brightly-colored “rocks” in varying shapes and sizes. Large seashell shaped rocks with finger holes are more suited for the beginners, while more experienced climbers can climb with barely-there rocks that could be mistaken for screws at a first glance.
While Petra Cliffs hosts many free climbers, more organized climbing events also take place. Groups, such as schools and corporations, go to Petra Cliffs to do team building exercises, such as high ropes courses and trust falls. “They definitely benefit,” says employee Andrea Miller. “It makes people look at things in a different light. They have to use other people to get through a small space.”
Additionally, Petra Cliffs has programs for kids. They do birthday parties, outdoor day camp in the summer, and the Friday Night Kids' Club. As the brochure tells parents, “Let your kids come play with us from 6 to 9pm on Friday night while you take in dinner or a movie!” In those three hours, kids learn how to climb, do various ropes courses, and have a great time. "Exposing kids to this is so much fun," Miller says with glee.
Many of the people who do these programs enjoy their stay at “New England’s finest indoor climbing experience” so much that they buy memberships. Usually, a day’s climbing pass combined with equipment rental (harness, climbing shoes and chalk) will cost $22; although, there are discounts for kids under 12 and students, as well as excellent group rates. A boulder pass, which is for the “cave” upstairs, only costs $10 because it is low enough to the ground that safety ropes are not necessary. There are also various membership packages.
Jen Gagnon has a special kind of membership. Originally from Connecticut, Gagnon went to the University of Vermont and had her first Petra Cliffs experience with her school’s outing club. She fell in love with the place and currently volunteers there in exchange for her membership. “For five hours every other week, I teach people how to belay. It’s awesome,” she says. “It’s good exercise, it's safe, and it's mentally challenging by figuring out where to go next. It’s just awesome.”
I'm going to have to agree with Gagnon and say that my night at Petra Cliffs was an awesome time. Needless to say, there isn't much of a rock climbing scene in Brooklyn, so when I arrived with the Plattsburgh State University Outing Club, I had no idea what I was doing. I put my harness on wrong and had to be told that you don’t wear socks with climbing shoes. Oops. But after those beginner fouls, everything else went smoothly.
Regardless, while the climbing is not nearly as easy as people make it look, belaying is actually really simple. It was a lot of fun and there really is a sense of accomplishment in ringing the bell at the top of the wall. And if I had fun doing something that made my arms sore for two days and impaired my ability to grip things, it must have been an excellent time.
Petra Cliffs Climbing Center & Mountaineering School
105 Briggs Street
Toll Free: (866) 65-PETRA
Climbing Pass: $14 (adult) - $12 (student) - $10 (under 12)
Bouldering Pass: $10 (adult) - $9 (student) - $7 (under 12)
10 Visit Punch Card: $125 (adult) - $105 (student) - $85 (under 12)
10 Visit Bouldering Card: $90 (adult) - $80 (student) - $60 (under 12)
Monthly Climbing Pass: $70 (adult) - $60 (student) - $50 (under 12) - $100 (family)
Monthly Bouldering Pass: $50 (adult) - $45 (student) - $35 (under 12)
Yearly Climbing Pass: $600 (adult) - $500 (student) - $400 (under 12) - $800 (family)
Monthly EFT: $65 (adult) - $55 (student) - $45 (under 12) - $95 (family)
6 Month EFT: $55 (adult) - $46 (student) - $38 (under 12) - $90 (family)Yearly EFT: $45 (adult) - $35 (student) - $35 (under 12) - $35 (family)
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