Yukon climbers look for a new challenge

A group of Yukon climbers is looking for the best route to bring more climbing options indoors. A new board - an offshoot of Climb Yukon - has been formed with the goal of building an indoor climbing wall.

A group of Yukon climbers is looking for the best route to bring more climbing options indoors.

A new board – an offshoot of Climb Yukon – has been formed with the goal of building an indoor climbing wall somewhere in Whitehorse.

If things go as planned, the new 33- to 40-foot wall would help people who already climb and make the activity more accessible to people who want to give it a try, they say.

“Because now they have a place to start and they have knowledgeable people that can actually teach them how to get into the sport and they can go try it and see if they like it,” said Josh Lightman, one of the group’s directors.

The idea is just getting off the ground. Right now the group is asking Yukoners to fill out an online survey to get a better sense of how many people in the territory might use an indoor climbing wall.

Plans for something like this have been discussed by Yukon climbers for a long time, said director Patricia Duchesneau, but last summer was when things really started taking shape.

“It was raining a lot that summer and somebody just said, on the Facebook page, ‘It would be really nice to have an indoor climbing wall accessible right now,’” she said.

As it stands, there aren’t many public options in the territory when it comes to climbing inside, the group says.

The majority of the facilities are in schools. Porter Creek Secondary School has a bouldering wall and so does the Teslin Community School, though that one is only rarely used, according to the Department of Education.

Bouldering walls are usually around 10 or 12 feet high and don’t require ropes. Large mats underneath catch anyone who slips.

Ecole Emilie-Tremblay in Whitehorse and schools in Carcross and Haines Junction each have taller walls used to teach climbing with ropes. The Department of Education couldn’t say how tall those walls are.

In Whitehorse, Yukon College has a 12-foot public bouldering wall. It’s open twice a week for two hours in the evening and for two one-hour afternoon sessions a week.

The new facility would combine bouldering and rope climbing in one place.

It’s difficult to train or learn to climb outdoors without taller indoor walls, organizers say. There are technical skills for rope climbing that you can’t learn on a short bouldering wall. Thanks to Yukon’s lengthy winter there is only a small window to learn outside.

“I was joking with a friend, we were talking about naming a route ‘determination’ because that’s kind of what it takes to climb in the Yukon,” Lightman said.

Duchesneau said without a place to practice year-round it’s difficult for people who do climb to maintain their skills.

“I did climb a little bit in the summer but I would say without training in the winter it makes it a little bit harder for me, at the level I’m at, to be comfortable and climb safely outside.”

There are physical and mental benefits to anyone who wants to give it a try.

“I think we can reach a wider population as well,” she said. “We’re thinking that eventually it would be really nice to start educational programs in the schools.”

The group is still figuring out how much all this would cost and how the wall would be run. So far managing it as a non-profit society is looking like the best option.

“Any profits that we derive from charging a membership or something would go right back into the facility supplying holds and ropes and equipment and instruction,” Lightman said.

Of course there is still the small matter of space. There aren’t many places in town tall enough to house such a wall. The group has looked at two possibilities so far, but they’re keeping tight-lipped about the options for now.

They’ve set up a handful of public kiosks at the Canada Games Centre to let people know about the plan.

So far the reaction has been very positive. Duchesneau said people appear interested in the wall and want to give climbing a try.

“I’d say it was really motivating actually to have physical contact with people that were actually interested by the project,” she said.

“It’s really motivating to know that there is an interest.”

The climbing survey can be found via Climb Yukon’s website at www.climbyukon.net.

Contact Ashley Joannou at