Climbing gym reopens after two-year closure

The College had to revamp the gym’s ventilation system to bring the facility in compliance with COVID-19 policies, delaying its reopening.

by Taylor Haber | 2/10/22 5:05am

by Katelyn Hadley / The Dartmouth

On Jan. 24, the Dartmouth Climbing Gym — located in the basement of Maxwell Hall — reopened for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, ending nearly two-years of closure.

The pandemic initially shuttered the climbing gym due to the spread of COVID-19, but outstanding ventilation problems — which existed before the onset of COVID-19 — factored into the facility’s continued shutdown, gym co-manager Grant Dumanian ’22 said. He added that recent renovations have put the gym in compliance with campus safety standards and COVID-19 health policies.

“I think a lot of people think that [COVID-19] on its own closed the gym because it closed the Alumni Gym [in 2020],” Dumanian said. “What actually happened was [COVID-19] exposed some already existing flaws with the ventilation of the gym. Essentially, [the College] checked if it was COVID-safe, and found it needed some ventilation overhaul to be safe. That’s not to say it had been unsafe before — they went in there and said, ‘All right, we need to get this back up to code.’”

In order to align with safety standards, the climbing gym underwent a full review during its closure period, according to Outdoor Programs Office director Coz Teplitz. The investigation motivated several changes to gym policies related to COVID-19 and facility ventilation more broadly, including a transition away from dry chalk. 

“Based on the review, we made some changes to the ventilation, thoroughly cleaned the gym and moved entirely to liquid chalk to minimize airborne dust that impedes airflow,” Teplitz wrote in an emailed statement. “This allowed us to reopen the climbing gym at reduced capacity.” 

Prior to the pandemic, the gym had the capacity to house “somewhere around 10 people'' climbing at once, with another 25 people standing on the floor, according to climbing gym co-manager Max Rosenfeld ’23. Since its reopening, he said, a combined total of eight climbers and managers have been allowed in the gym at once.

“It’s a pretty small space,” Rosenfeld said. “We had to reinspect [the gym] for ventilation, and we’ve got it to a point where we can have as many people as we can have in there.”

Students looking to use the climbing gym must book a 90-minute slot through Trailhead, the networking interface for the Dartmouth Outing Club, according to revised gym policy guidelines outlined in a campus-wide email last week. Any student can book up to three climbing slots a week between 8-11 a.m. and 4-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 4-10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The guidelines stipulate that mask-wearing is mandatory at all times in the gym.

The preparation for the gym’s reopening has been under consideration for a number of months, Dumanian said. By the winter and spring terms of 2021 — when it became clear that masked activities would be allowed on campus — gym managers began preparing the facility. Student managers, in coordination with the Outdoor Programs Office, sought to ready the space for climbers, Dumanian explained. 

“There was a dual set of tasks,” Dumanian said. “One was the ventilation and all the cleaning, and another was setting up all the infrastructure so that the gym could be COVID-safe when it opened up again. That was figuring out the Trailhead signups, figuring out capacity and then … hiring monitors.”

Providing an on-campus climbing space for a pre-pandemic level of people would require “a complete overhaul” of the current facility or a larger space entirely, Dumanian explained.

“They still had to do some amount of cleaning, some… ventilation changes to get the gym to a [COVID-19]-friendly space,” Dumanian said. “But it seems like, from what I’ve heard, the gym will need a lot more work or a new building to get back to 15, 20, 25 people at a time.”

For those who have been able to use the climbing gym since its reopening, the experience has been “super nice,” gym co-manager Miles Rubens ’22 said. Having climbed at the gym during his first two years on campus, Rubens said he appreciated seeing younger students take advantage of the space.

“There aren’t that many ways to exercise, especially at night,” Rubens said. “You can go to the [Alumni] Gym. You can come here. That’s pretty much it. So it’s nice to have and see people get into it and enjoy it.”

Experienced climbers, as well as novices, have begun signing up for gym slots, either to get back into the activity for the first time this term or to experiment with a potential new hobby.

Eli Oaks ’23 said he tries to climb as regularly as his schedule permits. A climber since his freshman year, Oaks said he does his best to book his three weekly-allotted climbing slots, especially since, during his gap year, off-campus climbing gyms became too expensive to regularly use.

“I just could not climb at home,” Oaks said. “The Dartmouth Climbing Gym is so much more accessible.”

Kevin Lin ’24 has climbed twice in his life — both times at the gym since its reopening two weeks ago. Lin explained that he had been “skeptical” after his girlfriend had recommended the activity. However, following his first climbing experience, he was eager to come back for the community and the exercise.

“I found something else to do,” Lin said  “It’s great to have a climbing gym on campus, [and] great that it’s open — a great opportunity to offer.”

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