Dig Baton Rouge

Rock Steady

Ropes and grips and anchors, oh my

Given the local topography, our community is pretty unfamiliar with the rock-climbing craze. The co-owners of Uptown Climbing, Baton Rouge’s first indoor climbing gym and Louisiana’s largest to date with more than 10,000 square feet of climbing wall and hundreds of possible routes, hope to change that.

I met one co-owner, Lee Guilbeau, in the packed Coursey Boulevard gym a few weeks ago for a tour and class. The facility itself is massive—I craned my neck as soon as I walked in and still didn’t see everything it has to offer. In addition to the more than 60 rope stations scaling 35-foot walls, Uptown Climbing has a speed wall where two competitors can race each other to the ceiling, a crack wall to simulate outdoor crack climbing, a members-only weight training room, a yoga room and two party rooms. 

We met back at the Oak Tree Tower to begin the top rope skills class. I’m not too familiar with climbing walls but years of summer break experience climbing live oaks reassured me that I could learn. Guilbeau was equally as enthusiastic and confident in his students’ abilities.

We started off learning about our equipment and the importance of the buddy system. To top rope, you need an anchor at the top of the wall to loop the rope through. Next, you need a belayer, a partner on the ground who adjusts the rope’s length as you climb and counterbalances your weight to prevent serious falls. This built-in buddy system also makes meeting new people at the gym a lot easier. 

During the class, Guilbeau explained that most of the injuries in rock climbing, either on an indoor wall or on real rocks, are caused by human error rather than problems with equipment. Self-awareness and good communication skills are key.

Co-owners Lee Guilbeau and Robb Antrobus, both Baton Rouge natives, met at a climbing conference a couple of years ago in a session about indoor climbing gyms. Antrobus was looking to open a gym in Los Angeles at the time, but with the real estate market working against him, decided to go into business back in his hometown instead. The pair opened their gym to the public last September and have been busy ever since. So far the gym has been popular, especially with younger clientele. Guilbeau said that on weekends kids knock on the doors before the gym officially opens, hoping to start climbing as early as possible.

Guilbeau and Antrobus intentionally offer class programming in bite-sized chunks. The sheer amount of things to climb at their gym is sky high and that can be overwhelming, especially for novice climbers. But even without the programs, there are tons of options at Uptown Climbing for a first time climber. Five auto belays, including two on the speed wall, allow patrons to climb without a belayer or previous top roping experience. For those who want to climb harness-free there is a 90-foot long bouldering wall on the mezzanine level. The gym also has plenty of places to sit and watch as well as a friendly gym dog named Cooper.

In addition to the top rope skills class, Uptown Climbing has basic movement technique classes to help you climb more efficiently and a lead rope skills class. Lead climbing is done without an anchor at the top of the wall and is more prominent in outdoor climbing. The gym offers various non-climbing courses, too, so patrons can work on overall fitness and injury prevention when they’re not in the air. Uptown Climbing also partners with Air Seekers on aerial yoga and aerial silks classes.

The most important lesson I got from my visit to Uptown Climbing wasn’t directly from Guilbeau’s class. The sheer wall face that the other student and I took turns climbing seemed impossibly tall at first glance. The knots we practiced tying seemed ridiculously tricky the first time I tied it. But by the end of the lesson I had reached the top quicker than I thought I could with a huge smile on my face. Guilbeau mentioned that 90 percent of the effort involved in climbing to new heights is just showing up. And he was right.

Photos by Ronni Bourgeois

Amanda Richey

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