Students, frustrated by continued climbing gym closure, seek alternative locations
The gym, which was closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain so until the space is renovated to improve ventilation.
First shuttered at the onset of the pandemic, the Dartmouth Climbing Gym remained closed this summer after an internal review uncovered poor ventilation in the space. This closure is set to extend throughout the fall, as renovations have yet to commence.
According to Outdoor Programs Office director Coz Teplitz, he and his colleagues must finalize the pricing and timing of the gym’s renovation before the project can begin.
“As we explored reopening the climbing gym, a thorough review of the space was conducted,” Teplitz wrote in an emailed statement. “That review revealed concerns that need to be addressed before the facility can be safely reopened, including some issues independent of COVID. We are still actively working to determine if any access to the facility might be able to be provided in the short term.”
Dartmouth Climbing Team co-captain Shaalin Sehra ’23 attributed the delayed renovations — which she said will cost $20,000 — to a “holdup with funding,” noting her frustration at the unclear timeline and the College’s lack of urgency.
“It’s frustrating that [the gym] just needs to be renovated and it isn’t,” Sehra said. “…it seems like we can’t really do anything about it and don’t really have all the information — and that it is a fixable problem. It’s just not being fixed.”
DCT co-captain Connor Bragg ’22 noted the importance of the gym, saying its unanticipated continued closure this summer fundamentally altered the team’s normal operations.
“Not having this space so close to campus definitely was a surprise, because it meant we were going to have to radically change the way we operate socially [and] logistically [and adjust] our expectations for the summer,” Bragg said.
According to Bragg, the team first identified the positive aspects of the climbing gym that they thought had contributed to the team’s strong culture and then considered how best to replicate those elements elsewhere. Bragg highlighted their agreed-upon need for a “shared space,” which he said the team found at an off-campus climbing gym: NH Climbing & Fitness in Concord, New Hampshire.
Unlike the gym on campus, which only offers one type of climbing — bouldering, or climbing without ropes — NH Climbing & Fitness has rope climbing, allowing the team to experiment with different disciplines, Bragg said.
“We were able to turn the advent of a new gym, a new location, into an opportunity to really figure out what direction we want the team to go in in the future,” Bragg said.
However, Sehra noted the challenges associated with driving to a gym located nearly an hour away, compared to the five or ten minutes it normally takes the team to walk to the gym on campus. Although the team hosts five practices a week when Dartmouth’s climbing gym is functional, Sehra said that the team has only been making trips to NH Climbing & Fitness two or three times a week.
Chloe Fugle ’23, a frequent user of Dartmouth’s climbing gym before the pandemic, noted the additional effort it takes to drive off-campus to climb, saying she has only been twice this term. In the past, Fugle said she went to the gym an average of ten times a term, and sometimes as many as three times a week.
“You have to prioritize it, because it is a huge chunk of time,” Fugle said. “I’ve only gone twice this term, because I need an evening where I have enough time.”
The team also had to request significantly more money from the DOC than in past terms, Sehra said, noting that she “wouldn’t be surprised if [the amount] was more than double” the team’s normal budget. The cost of gas for vehicles and the termly $600 team membership to the off-campus gym are responsible for the increase in expenses, Sehra added.
According to Bragg, the climbing team is “one of the lowest-subsidized clubs of the DOC” despite having some of the highest costs. He noted that for the team to remain operational while the Dartmouth gym is closed, they will need to begin requesting more money from the DOC.
Although the DOC will likely continue to fund the membership to NH Climbing & Fitness this fall, Sehra said, the team is also exploring the possibility of building its own climbing wall. The DOC and the OPO vetoed the construction on campus due to space constraints, but Sehra said an off-campus house may be a potential location for the wall.
Going forward, Bragg said he aims to incorporate more students from the Classes of 2024 and 2025 into the team as it gears up for what he hopes to be a reopening of Dartmouth’s gym in the winter.
“Our goals are kind of really defined ways to expand on our successes this summer of getting people to be able to successfully return to climbing,” Bragg said. “We’re looking to really integrate the newcomers, whether they be new to climbing or just simply new to the team, into our operations, and then also properly set up for competition season and hopefully [excel at] the high level that we normally perform at.”