27 Nov Gym Guide – Focus Climbing Center – Phoenix, AZ
While visiting Phoenix over Thanksgiving, I managed to squeeze in a session at the Focus Climbing Center in Mesa. And honestly, what a great place to climb!
Getting Started: After signing waivers and buying a day pass, Focus requires all first-timers to participate in a safety orientation. I know many experienced climbers find this tedious, but as a coach and gym employee who has seen many injuries, I was really impressed by this detail. I think a quick safety reminder reinforces safe practices, puts you in humble frame of mind, and is really important for new climbers.
Focus is primarily a bouldering gym so the orientation was strongly focused on bouldering safety; maintaining distance between climbers, only climbing as high as you feel comfortable falling, and falling safely. Every climber was then asked to demonstrate safe, rolling falls from various heights on the wall.
Before venturing off to climb, we were also given an overview of proper harness and auto belay use as Focus maintains several auto belay routes.
Facility: Clean, bright, and well maintained! The focus on safety continues in the design of the gym itself. Rather than using crash pads for protection, the bouldering area is covered by a single large mat, which is very thick, and certainly helps to prevent all sorts of missed-pad injuries.
Focus is also the only gym I’ve ever visited that provides chalk for their climbers! Chalk buckets and basins are located throughout the gym and it is asked that excess chalk be kept in the bins. Though this might be an extra expense for the gym, it is a great perk for climbers (especially for me since I forgot my chalk bag!) and I definitely think it helps to keep the facility cleaner.
Climbing: The bouldering walls were 16-18 feet and composed of a variety of terrain, ranging from slab, to steep overhang. I liked the fact that many problems ended part-way up the wall, allowing less confident climbers the opportunity to finish problems and feel successful without the pressure of topping out. To me, the grades felt pretty tough! The highest I could onsight was V4, while having to take multiple attempts at higher grades. Generally I’m onsighting V5-V6 in the gym. Despite being somewhat difficult, I thought the setting was creative and fun, with a good variety of movement. My one small complaint was the use of tape for marking routes. I know this is pretty standard practice but I’ve always had a very hard time reading tape, so it’s not my preference. But really this is my problem and not an issue with the gym itself.
I spent an hour or so bouldering, before moving over to the auto belay routes. These walls were a bit taller, maybe 30 feet, and had a great variety of routes, from several 5.6’s to a few 12+ routes. The walls ranged from slightly less than vertical, to about 15 degrees overhung. Since this was an endurance day for me, I attempted every route on every auto belay and found that the grades here were pretty on point. I onsighted everything 12- and below, while having to work out the moves on the 12+ routes.
I was impressed with how many routes Focus had concentrated in a relatively small area. This helps to keep climbers from getting bored, and also ensures that there is something for everyone! My only issue here was that some of the routes would wander into the territory of the neighboring auto belay, creating the possibility of collisions between climbers.
Besides this though, I really didn’t have any complaints about the gym. It was overall very well run, with knowledgeable staff and a friendly community of climbers. I also found it nice that the owner of the gym was right in there climbing with everybody else. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen this before, and for me it just added a n extra sense of investment in the quality of the gym.
So all in all, if you’re in the Phoenix area, I would definitely recommend a visit to Focus!