Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
– Henry Ford
Get Gneiss. That is the motto of gneiss climbing; one of Kelowna’s newest, and coolest, businesses. Since opening two months ago this climbing gym has quickly established itself as one of the best fitness facilities around. Centered around the sport of bouldering (rock climbing without ropes), gneiss (pronounced nice and named after the metamorphic rock present in the Okanagan) has quickly built a dedicated group of members while disguising itself as a fitness gym. With over 5,000 sq.ft. of naturally lit space, gneiss is one of the most fun and addictive places to workout locally.
For those that have not heard of the sport (which two months ago included myself), bouldering is a stripped down form of rock climbing on boulders less than 6 metres (20 feet) in height. Done without ropes, the goal is to climb bouldering “problems” (which refers to the path a climber takes to complete a climb) using only a chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes. The sport challenges your brain as much as your physical fitness as you use a combination of balance, technique and strength to solve each problem.
For many, the appeal of bouldering is multi-faceted. The mental aspect of the sport is surprisingly addictive. Raw strength will only get you so far; to truly master the sport you need to conquer the mental side as well. Stress and other worries of the day dissipate as you lock your focus on solving the problem at hand. You quickly become obsessed with climbing smarter while at the same time improving your core strength, physical fitness and flexibility as you push your limits and learn new techniques.
While bouldering itself is an individual sport (it’s just you and the wall), one of the things that I have enjoyed most about climbing thus far is the social aspect. At any given time in the gym there are several people working on the same problem and between climbs you end up bouncing ideas off each other looking for a new technique to try. This aspect of climbing makes for a real social vibe and builds camaraderie as you cheer each other on while tackling the challenge at hand.
Since the grand opening in April 2016, gneiss climbing has since introduced countless new people to the Okanagan bouldering scene. By building a high-calibre fitness facility which utilizes the best wall system in the sport (Walltopia), gneiss has set-out to get people active in a way that is both thrilling and enjoyable. In a relatively short period of time gneiss climbing has established itself as a much needed addition to the local bouldering scene and a legitimate player in the Kelowna fitness industry.
The goal of gneiss is to build a community and it is amazing at how well they have succeeded in this after only two short months. The gym is always filled with supportive climbers ready to encourage you on or give you some fresh perspective on a route. It’s a non-competitive atmosphere where you can chill on the mezzanine with an espresso while you watch others climb or wind down after a climbing session by playing foosball. The facility is outfitted with various training equipment, from finger boards to rope ladders, free weights to cardio equipment, all with the goal of helping you improve as a climber.
Coinciding with all of this is the fact that the Okanagan is becoming a bouldering Mecca in Canada. Spread across 10 bouldering fields, it is estimated that over 1,000 problems are available to climb within the Okanagan. The most established of these fields, named simply the Boulderfields, is located just outside of Kelowna. As one of the top bouldering fields in all of North America this area has been put on the map by a group of local climbing enthusiasts. In fact, this weekend (June 18-19) the 4th Annual Rock the Blocs event will take place at the Boulderfields where climbers from all over North America will descend upon Kelowna eager to give the 100+ problems a go.
As a small business owner I believe that a big part of supporting local is the story behind the business. Who owns and runs the company is as important as what they sell or offer. The husband and wife team behind gneiss, Chris and Nancy de Vries, have the down-to-earth personality that you would expect from a couple of prairie-expats. Their passion for the sport is always on display and the way that they genuinely greet each new face into their facility sets the tone for the welcoming atmosphere that they have established.
Climbers are well known for their core strength and Chris is the epitome of a climber. With a laid-back attitude, Chris maneuvers up the wall in a dance-like fashion and makes some of the most difficult routes appear as routine as climbing a set of stairs. Like most top climbers, his strength is deceiving while his commitment to his craft is inspiring.
Bouldering is still relatively an unknown sport in the Okanagan but gneiss climbing is setting-out to change that. Chris and Nancy’s vision starts at the grassroots level and this is where my respect has been earned. With a separate area outfitted just for kids, gneiss offers an array of climbing lessons to introduce kids to the sport and to advance their climbing passion. Birthday parties are a regular occurrence on weekends and Chris ends up spear-heading most of these himself. As a father of three he has a natural ability to make it all about the experience and leaves newcomers with a favourable and lasting impression.
Bouldering may not be for everyone but at gneiss everyone is welcome. There are members from the very young (just walking) to the old (still walking) and both sexes are evenly represented. The vibe gneiss needs to be felt to be appreciated and climbing the walls need to be experienced to understand how fun this sport is. Thus far gneiss climbing has epitomized everything an Okanagan hang-out should be: fun and social yet not take itself too seriously. I see big things in their future, and the future of bouldering in the Okanagan, and am excited to have become a member of this great community.
To learn more about gneiss climbing, including their location, hours, membership rates and programs offered, watch the video below and visit their website.