Gym Guide – Portland Climbing – Portland, OR
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Gym Guide – Portland Climbing – Portland, OR

Over the 4th of July, I went up to Portland for a week to visit friends and explore the area. As a very outdoor oriented city, Portland is just chalk full of gyms (chalk…hehe). Out of the half dozen or so in the greater Portland area I was able to visit three gyms, and really had a great time at each one.  Instead of doing separate reviews, I thought I’d just give a quick overview here of each gym.

The three I visited were:

Planet Granite, Portland OR

The Source Gym, Vancouver WA

The Circuit Gym SW, Portland OR

Planet Granite:  For nearly as long as I’ve been climbing, I’ve heard people rave about the Planet Granite gyms, so I was very excited to visit my first one up in Portland! Well hundreds upon thousands of climbers are not wrong; this was a great gym!

Visitors and new climbers should be prepared for the typical waivers and orientations, as well as a bouldering safety video and belay checks for top rope and lead.  PG has GriGri’s set up on all top ropes, but allows lead belayers to choose between GriGri or ATC, which is definitely a policy that I prefer. Lead climbers are also allowed to take their lead test on any level of route, which again, I prefer, as it allows climbers of all levels to safely practice their lead skills.

I’ve been bouldering almost exclusively the past few months, so I took the opportunity here to rope climb for once, meaning I can’t say much about the bouldering area.  However, I will say that the roped climbing at PG was great fun!  I liked the fairly close spacing of the bolts as it made leading very comfortable, and created a good environment for new climbers to learn.  I felt the setting here was pretty on par grade wise.  I was able to onsight everything I attempted below 12b, which is pretty typical for me.

As far as roped climbing goes, there were a couple things that in particular stood out for me.  One was the creativity of the setting. I felt that every route from my 8 warm-ups to my mid-12 projects had some kind of fun, thoughtful beta, and made really good use of the wall terrain.  There was a lot of stemming, heel hooking, side pulling, mantling, etc. I appreciated that even on “easier” routes, there were moves that you actually had to think about, rather than just muscling or laddering through things.  I can see how this might be a little intimidating for less technically experienced climbers though, so if that’s you, just be prepared that you might find yourself puzzling over routes or grades you would normally send easily.

Besides this, I also happened to love the cracks!  Cracks upon cracks upon cracks of all sizes!  From hands to fingers to off-widths. This variety is great for developing crack technique and I had a lot of fun playing around here!

All in all, PG was a great gym and I definitely recommend a visit for anyone in the Portland area.  Below, you can see some pics of the terrain, as well as a video of my favorite route of the day 🙂

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The Source Gym:  The Source is a small gym located in downtown Vancouver, WA, just across the river from Portland. I always have a lot of respect for these smaller gyms, as I feel they generally work really hard to keep up with their larger, more commercial counterparts.  This was definitely the case at The Source. From my initial interactions with the very friendly and helpful staff members, to the host of challenging and fun routes, I had a great experience at The Source.

Despite being a smaller facility, The Source manages to provide quite a lot! It is a very well designed gym for it’s size, offering bouldering, top rope, lead, multiple auto belays, and a children’s climbing area, as well as a fitness area with tread wall. For anyone wanting to rope climb or use auto belays, the standard orientations and tests are required, otherwise boulderers are good to go! Partner-less on this day, I opted for bouldering and had a great time enjoying some very challenging setting. In a lot of the more commercial gyms, I find that the setting can be a bit soft, which is nice for encouraging new climbers and helping them progress through the grades, however, it’s also a bit misleading.  The Source was more true to grade for me as compared to outdoor climbing and really made you work for every send.

I spoke with some other visitors to this gym and heard the same sentiments about the top rope and lead routes; fun, interesting, and more difficult then typical gym routes.  I don’t necessarily see this as a problem though, just a good challenge!  I think my only area of discontent was the use of tape to mark routes, as I personally have such a hard time following tape.  I don’t know what it is…ADD, tape dyslexia? But again, this is a personal issue and I think most people are just fine with it.  And to give credit to the source, 95% of the time the tape matched the hold color, which definitely made it easier on me!

So overall, a great time at this gym as well.  For anyone looking for some good training and challenging setting while in the Portland or Vancouver areas, definitely stop by for a visit!

The Circuit Gym SW: The Circuit is a franchise of bouldering gyms around the Portland area.  There are three locations currently, of which, I visited the South West location.  As a dedicated bouldering gym, the Circuit offers a large area with a great variety of bouldering terrain. Overhangs of varying degrees, vertical walls, slabs, arches, as well as a hanging pillar; it was all there!

I had already met a few of the setters from The Circuit, so it was especially nice to show up at this gym and be treated like one of the family!  I got to hop on all the new routes that went up that day and hang out with a great crew of strong climbers.  As with the other gyms I visited in Portland, I thought the setting here was really well done, and I especially liked that routes of all different levels were included on every type of terrain. In some gyms, I have found that steep overhung sections will cater only to strong climbers, thus making it difficult for beginners to develop this technique, while slabs and vertical will cater only to less advanced climbers.

The Circuit, however, had a great mix of routes in every section of the gym and really catered to climbers of all levels. The setting team told me this was something they really focused on, trying to put routes from v0 to v9 on every wall.  To me the overall grading felt pretty on par, and maybe slightly harder then other franchise gyms. The Circuit also uses tape to mark routes (*shakes fist*) but again, as with The Source, the tape almost always coordinated with the hold color, so it wasn’t too hard to follow (Yay!).

And so Portland went three for three!  I enjoyed The Circuit very much and definitely recommend a visit!

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All in all I had a great time climbing in Portland!  I think the number of gyms in this area has really helped to push the quality and creativity of route setting forward, and it seems like whichever gym you choose around here, you can’t go wrong!

Feel free to contact me with any further questions.  Or you check out the links below.  Happy climbing everybody!

Planet Granite Portland

The Source Climbing

The Circuit Bouldering

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