Ted Welser pushes aside a vacuum plastic curtain and climbs a set of steep stairs
that lead to the loft of his garage on the residential east side of Athens. The plywood walls are barely visible under interlocking nobs and bits. Polyurethane climbing holds make up the majority of the mimic rock which resembles cleverly reconstituted construction scraps.
Sydney Welser, 12, hangs upside down from a suspended length of PVC piping as her father says, “Yeah, this room has been a work in progress since we moved here. We finished this wall first, in 2013.” Climbing down, Sydney chimes in, “and then that one was next, it was the easiest,” gesturing toward a jumble of holds under one of the room’s only two windows.
The Welser garage loft — named The Dojo — is small by almost every metric. The Dojo is the personal climbing space of Ted Welser who, with the help of two other Athens locals, Bryant Noble and Jesse Stock, founded Climb Athens L.L.C. in September 2016.
Welser and existing members of Athens rock climbing community have managed to fit more than 105 planned “routes” and 1500 holds into a space that might be better suited for storage than for sport.
“Climbing gyms in Japan have to be like this [cramped],” Welser says pointing at an empty space between holds. “This would probably have a hold here.”
In that way, Welser reflects the personality of many climbers: tenacious. In the past year Climb Athens LLC. has attracted about 30 funding members.
Climb Athens is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the cornerstone tenets of rock climbing in the Athens area. Currently, the organization is in the process of applying for a 501(c)7 non-profit “Social Club” tax exemption license, and operates as such. Some of it’s ultimate goals include, “Building a supportive, cooperative community,” “Encouraging healthy, lifelong active lifestyles,” and establishing, “high quality, accessible, and inspiring climbing facilities.” Climb Athens began receiving members in the fall of 2016, but was established long before that.
Welser, now at Ohio University, moved to Athens in August of 2007 from Seattle, Washington. Though Welser climbed less frequently in Washington, a fresh start and relative geographic proximity to some of the best rock climbing on the continent rekindled Welser’s interest in the sport. Though not his first home wall, Welser fondly calls The Dojo his best.
In 2013, Welser met Bryant Noble, another avid climber, at the Athens Bicycle shop.
“I have a one track mind,” Noble says. “I had been so focused on biking that I didn’t climb for about a year.”
Noble moved to Athens with a group from Illinois to found the Brookfield Church, which is located on Court Street in Athens. Welser’s garage project tipped the scales for Noble. Together, with the help of the disparate, but pre-existing climbing community, Climb Athens began construction on its bouldering wall in Noble’s more spacious garage.
Noble’s garage, named “BetaFish,” (a pun in reference to climbing slang “beta” which helps climbers understand how to climb a prescribed route) is located on Vore Ridge Road off of 682 near the University Estates. The wall stands about 12 feet tall and is wide enough for five people to climb simultaneously. The floor is plastered with couch cushions, fall mats, and two newly acquired gymnastic mats that, together, cost Climb Athens about $2000 — money raised from membership fees.
“Running this kind of thing can be expensive. We are just trying to break even at this point, but that’s kind of what climbing is about,” Welser says. “The more regular climbers we can get to sign up, the more we can offer.”
Today, in addition to Noble’s garden tools, fishing gear and car, the BetaFish rock wall features a Moon Board (sometimes called a Moon Wall), an online phenomenon that allows for standard, pre-planned routes to be set all around the world. A wood stove is stoked during hours of operation and heats the large indoor space — a graciously Appalachian twist on gym normalcy.
As their program grows, Welser and Noble hope they can expand the climbing space in BetaFish. Continued efforts to improve the routes, ensure climber safety, and keep the conversation interesting are reliant on continued funding. The addition of another location in a commercial space has also been discussed, which could accelerate the capacity for development.
For now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, BetaFish offers a taller wall for strength training and route planning. The space provides Climb Athens members an opportunity to help develop the goals set by the organization: offering community, support and affordable climbing.