Climbing wall opens at Richmond Olympic Oval

Eric Portelance on the new climbing wall at the Richmond Olympic Oval. - Don Fennell photo
Eric Portelance on the new climbing wall at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

When the new sport climbing wall at the Richmond Olympic Oval was officially opened the public at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, Eric Portelance was first in line as the winner of an online contest contest sponsored by The Richmond Review.

That also earned the local resident the honour of establishing a route to the top, planting a Canadian flag at the top, and naming the route “Lulu Was Her Name.”

“I thought it was interesting to be able to name a route, and I wanted to pick something that reflected local history,” said Portelance, who began climbing again four years ago following the birth of his son.

Originally from Montreal, Portelance is an experienced climber who has ascended such ranges as the Laurentians and the Rockies in the Banff and Lake Louise areas. He’s mostly climbed indoors in the Lower Mainland, but says there are several great outdoor cliffs to tackle including in the Squamish area, which is especially popular with rock climbing enthusiasts.

Portelance’s job as an environmental co-ordinator dovetails with his longtime passion for climbing, which while in university usually included at least two climbing days a week.

“It’s a great stress release,” he said. “You come here and nothing else matters. Every time you go up there’s always a bit of doubt, but there’s no room for panic and you learn ways to control your emotions. It’s a great sport because it helps you overcome your fears. It’s about what you’re capable of accomplishing.”

•The oval’s climbing wall features three main sections—a 25-foot (7.6-metre) beginners’ wall, a 38-foot (11.6-metre) intermediate wall, and a 40-foot (12.2-metre) overhang corner section. It can accommodate 31 different routes suited to all skill levels.

The climbing wall is set up for tope rope, lead climbing and some bouldering. Its surfaces are made up of a mix of vertical, bulge, overhanging and simulated crack features. A bridge extending from the fitness mezzanine will allow for physically disabled persons to rappel from the wall.

All climbers need to pass a standard belay test which costs $5 (waived by continuous monthly or paid-in-full memberships). Children five and under can use the wall under the supervision of an adult who has passed the belay test.

Lead climbing testing is also provided by staff. Any climber passing the lead test ($10) may climb on designated routes. There are additional fees for equipment rental and instruction programs.

Early feedback on the climbing wall has been overwhelmingly positive, said Melanie Jue, marketing and communications co-ordinator at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

“A lot of climbers from other gyms, even experienced climbers, have even said the routes are set really well and are challenging,” she said, noting people representing a wide age group—from four to 74—have tried climbing the wall.

On opening day Saturday, 140 individuals took up the challenge with a further 170 on a waiting list.

Richmond Olympic Oval marketing manager Aran Kay said with 30 routes, as many as 30 people can be climbing the wall at any one time. He added that in addition to public access, the wall may be used in the future by emergency services personnel for repel and ledge training. There’s also a possibility of future competitions, he said.

“We’re continually looking at ways to keep interest high a the oval, and our surveys indicated climbing was popular and growing,” said Kay. “It’s also one of those sports that can be used as a unique cross-training element.”

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