We're really looking forward to taking over the Seattle Vertical World Climbing gym this Thursday, August 4 for a screening of Brave New Wild! There will be film, beer, cider, and fun times for all. Thank you so much VW for having us! (Get your ticket here -- and don't forget that half the proceeds go to the American Alpine Club - Cascades Section so it's also for a good cause!) To get you excited, here is a little Q&A with event coordinator Aaron Rourke, the good soul running this shindig.
BNW: Is it true that Vertical World is the first climbing gym in America? What’s the story behind how it got started?
Aaron Rourke: Yep VW was the first American gym! We opened in 1987 on Elliott Ave in Seattle. The gym had rocks glued to painted plywood panels with climbing area simulators like a Joshua Tree route and gravel for floor padding. The founders Rich Johnston and Dan Cauthorn in 1987 originally named it the Vertical Club.
BNW: How big is Vertical World now?
Aaron: 20,000 sq ft of climbing wall surface, the 1st floor with all the climbing is 10,000 sq ft and we have a fitness studio that is 2,500 sq ft where the film screening will take place.
BNW: As America’s first climbing gym, you’ve seen a lot of history go by. Is there a memorable moment that the gym has experienced that displays that history?
Aaron: Every day there are moments when I see the history and evolution of generations of Vertical World Climbing Team kids -- athletes like Sean Bailey and Sidney Trinidad who started in our youth programs 15 years ago and are now competing on an international level. Then there are new younger generations of inspiring crushers that are looking up to Sidney and Sean. For the past 15 years, Vertical World Climbing Team has consistently placed in the Top 3 at both the ABS and SCS National Championships.
BNW: On a given day, what kinds of characters find themselves trying routes inside the Seattle Vertical World gym?
Aaron: What makes me proud of working at VW is that we welcome every skill level, demographic and age. Each busy weeknight there is an even spectrum of ages form 3 yrs to 70+ years. Boulders, alpinists, mountaineers, sport and trad climbers. Every now and then Fred Becky pops in during the middle of the day unannounced with a helper. Fred will out of nowhere crave some of the 5.6 routes in our classroom and we always stop what we're doing to give him some rental gear and a belay.
BNW: How did you end up in Seattle as the event coordinator at VW?
Aaron: I grew up in Coastal Northern California on the beach and in the ocean surfing. When I moved to the PNW 11 years ago I discovered rock climbing. After college I worked in Oregon as the Events and Market Coordinator at a nonprofit called the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation. I moved to Seattle 2 years ago to support a career opportunity at the Cascade Bicycle club for my partner Briana. I had never visited Seattle once and had zero contacts. Climbing has always welcomed me with open arms so I thought the best way to begin my Seattle experience was to do events at VerticalWorld.
BNW: What kind of role does Vertical World play in the climbing community?
Aaron: It rains a lot up here. The climbing gym is not just a training ground but a social hub where climbing and business partnerships are formed. Our role is to emphasize our values within this social hub, the values of climbing safety, education, mentorship, stewardship, and the American Alpine Club slogan "together we are stronger."