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Come Winter, Rock Climbers Head Indoors

November 4, 1989

SOMERVILLE, Mass. (AP) _ When three friends found their fulltime jobs were getting in the way of their rock-climbing, they opened the largest indoor climbing facility in the United States.

Now the Boston Rock Gym offers other professionals a crack at finding footholds, scaling heights and even exchanging phone numbers.

But even the owners admit the view at the top doesn’t conjure up the Rocky Mountains.

The rock gym features 40-foot high walls with 4,700 square feet of cavernous climbing space in a chilly building located in this working class neighborhood near Boston.

Inside, climbers, who must wear harnesses attached to a protective rope, cling to the dusty brick sides of an oblong room, balancing against the shallow bumps screwed into the wall that serve as artificial footholds.

Some people dangle from the angled overhangs high up, while others make slower progress near the floor, as partners holding the other end of the harness rope offer encouragement, and a radio sings nearby.

The gym is hardly an indoor Alps, but co-owner Wayne Domeier says there are reasons other than captivating vistas for climbers to climb. First and foremost, climbers need to practice, Domeier said.

The best climbing in the Northeast is generally agreed to be found on the White Horse and Cathedral cliffs in North Conway, N.H., and the Shawangunk cliffs in New York. Capricious weather and full-time jobs often don’t allow climbers enough opportunity to get to these areas, however, Domeier said.

He and his partners in Mountain Sports Specialists Inc., Steve Weitzler and Tom Nonis, started the gym because their other jobs were getting in the way of climbing, said Domeier. The site is open only on weeknights and weekend days.

Domeier, 31, is an engineer at Zymark Robotics Co. Weitzler, 32, used to work at the Waltham YMCA and Nonis, also 32, is a carpenter. The three are 12- year veterans of the sport, Domeier said.

Climbers can buy three-, six- and 12-month memberships for $109, $189 or $295. People can walk in off the street for $8, and they can rent harnesses and special shoes for $5. The gym also offers three-hour beginner’s lessons for $40.

So far, the club has 60 members, and about four more join every week, Domeier said.

″We have all types,″ said Domeier. ″Climbing used to be the lunatic fringe of society. But now it’s an acceptable sport, especially on the coasts.″

Among the converts are an increasing number of women, said Domeier. Some nights, Domeier has walked into the climbing room and seen only women climbing and holding the ropes. The club is thinking of starting a Ladies’ Night, he said.

″It turns out that a lot of women climb better than a lot of guys, because some of them lack upper body strength, and they have to learn how to use balance and footwork,″ which are the proper ways to climb, said Domeier.

″Men will often try pulling themselves up, like gorillas,″ he said.

Lisa Giammotti, 23, started climbing about five months ago, and she has been coming to the Boston Rock Gym twice a week since it opened, she said.

″I love it,″ said Giammotti, 23, who is a secretary and lives in Woburn. ″It uses every part of your body and your mind, and you feel good after you do it. And it’s good for your self-esteem.″

One night last week, the gym’s main climbing room echoed with chatter, as about 20 people stood on the ground, faces upturned, watching their partners. The climbers struggled up the wall with jerky and tense motions, occasionally reaching into a bag on their back to dust sweaty hands with chalk.

The ground partners hold a braking mechanism to ″belay″ the person in the air, using friction to catch the climbers if they fall, which is often.

No one gasped and few noticed as a man who missed a foothold by a few inches dropped from the side of the wall, and he bobbed gently in his harness until he came to the floor. A few minutes later another climber dropped slowly from the ceiling, as his partner belayed him down.

The partner system, established to minimize risk of injuries and liability, may also lend a new character to climbing, ordinarily a practice of such remote isolation.

″It’s a great way to make friends,″ said Rick Grinnell, 30, an engineer who lives in Lawrence, as the laughter in the main climbing room rose and fell.

Many people come alone and get paired with someone once they arrive, which can lend climbing a real camaraderie, Domeier said.

″It’s very, very social, because it takes at least two,″ Domeier said. ″A lot of phone numbers have been exchanged here.″

END ADV for Weekend Release Nov. 04-05

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