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Yukon University’s new climbing wall torn down after two months of construction

Yukon University will store wall until another location can be found
Yukon University seen on Jan. 28, 2021. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

A bouldering wall recently built at Yukon University will be taken down and put into storage before it’s ever climbed.

Yukon University spokesperson Michael Vernon confirmed plans to remove the wall in the school’s gym in a May 13 email, highlighting a number of issues with the project.

Among them, he said, the wall’s location in the gym contravened the storage room location that had originally been approved; and it had exceeded the approved budget of $30,000 as well as the approved scope. A total of $65,000 has been spent on the project.

Vernon said that just prior to construction, it was learned the wall could not be built in the storage room as planned due to water pipes being present. The project team in charge changed the location to the gym without resubmitting it for approval, he said.

“It has since come to light the project included a further three planned phases in 2022-23 (that would also incorporate building in the gym) and a total, eventual estimated project cost of $295,000,” he said in an email. “This scope and total cost was not shared with decision makers during the initial approval process.”

It is not specified who the decison makers are.

The gym, he said, is not viable for a climbing facility as it’s deemed to be incompatible with the $450,000 maple athletic floor installed in 2021 and with the planned varsity sports and university events.

“The bouldering wall project has been halted and is currently incomplete,” Vernon said, adding plans are to have it removed at a time that will cause the least disruption to those using the gym.

It will then be placed in storage until a more viable location can be found.

Vernon also said the project proposal included a letter of support from one student. The lack of documented student support was flagged as problematic.

It remains unclear how the wall was able to be constructed in the gym over the course of a couple of months without being stopped by decision makers.

In response to questions about it, Vernon said: “This situation highlights some gaps in communication and checks and balances between departments. There are opportunities for improvement and strengthening of our existing processes and systems. We are looking into how everything unfolded, how the project progressed so far and what steps we can implement to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

The president’s council approved the initial proposal for a $30,000 bouldering space in a storage room next to the gym.

The approval was based on confirmed availability of funding for the full cost of the project as proposed and historical accounts about the previous bouldering wall being somewhat popular with internal and external users.

The previous wall had been located in the gym.

Vernon said the proposed bouldering space was to be in a room that is 18 feet long by 10 feet wide, and would feature 700 square feet of climbing surface. The wall that was built in the gym is 13 feet high with two sections - 46 feet and 17 feet wide - providing approximately 1,000 square feet of climbing surface.

The wall will be deconstructed in the next month, Vernon said. The timeline and process for selecting a new location has yet to be determined.

Contracted to build

Equinox Adventure Consulting, headed up by Christopher Gishler, was contracted to build the wall and had hired a number of people to help.

“I was quite happy to work on it,” Gishler said of the project, noting students he spoke with also seemed excited about the wall. There were a few among the crew hired to help out with building the wall and Yukon University officials he dealt with were very professional, he said.

Climbing holds have already been purchased for the wall and mats have been designed, Gishler said, noting the plan had been for the wall to be operational in September, though there had been the possibility that could happen in July.

He said he was not informed about why the wall would be taken down.

Rob Cohen, a student at the school involved in starting up its outdoors club, said the idea for the wall came about as the club was getting more established and looking at ideas for indoor activities. The school’s previous climbing wall in the gym was removed to put in the new floor in 2020.

The club worked with staff at the school and after plans for the storage room weren’t able to go ahead, they were informed by staff at the university that the wall would instead be placed in the gym. Everything seemed approved to go ahead and work began on the wall, continuing over the two month period.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Cohen said he learned the wall would be removed, as per a decision at the school’s executive level.

“It’s a bit surprising, really,” he said, noting the university’s push to get new clubs — such as the outdoors club — up and running.

While there remain outdoor activities the club can host outside through the winter — snowshoeing, for example — the bouldering wall was set to provide an indoor option through the colder months that would also serve for training for those looking to get more into climbing through the summer.

There also would have been opportunities for more revenue coming into the school and outdoors club with plans for public use opportunities. Residents would have paid a fee to use the wall at those times with revenues going to Yukon University and the club.

“Everyone was pretty stoked,” Cohen said, adding that though there is a bouldering wall at Porter Creek Secondary School, user times are limited by the school’s schedule.

Cohen said it hasn’t been made clear to him why the wall has to come down and many see it coming down as waste of money. As Cohen pointed out, it will likely cost thousands now to take it down.

“We’re not sure of the motivation,” he said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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