Climbing in an grain silo is quite an experience. Thursday April 12, 2007 was my first time! OKC Rocks! in Oklahoma City is an interesting place with some cool ideas, but it could be better!
Last Thursday, I was in Oklahoma City for business, and I decided to take my gear and visit OKC Rocks! Just south of I-40 in Oklahoma City, actually visible with a big blue OK state flag painted on it.
PICTURES ARE COMING, AS SOON AS I CAN GET THEM OFF MY PHONE!
My first experience with OKC Rocks was my call to see what the chances were of finding someone to belay, since I was climbing by myself. The phone message pretty much said that if I received this message, either they weren’t open yet (4PM), or they were just too busy to answer the phone. When I arrived at about 4:30, two guys were sitting behind the counter, and they had two pairs of climbers. Even though the facility is in plain sight from the interstate and Bricktown, I should have printed the directions. It’s quite confusing trying to find it visually, and you can quickly end up in some seemingly crappy areas of town.
The whole facility inside a 8-silo grain facility, whose entrance is sort inobvious. The individual silos are connected with short walls making chimney areas between, and I assume the owner has cut doorways through the concrete for passage between them.
Even though it was t-shirt weather outside, the inside was quite frigid. The facility doesn’t seem to be air conditioned, neither heating or cooling. The operators of the facility really should open some doors and let the outside air in once in a while. Since it doesn’t get much air, it smells like stank feet.
Routes are configured in several different orientations. In the round silos, each has four routes. In the odd almost hourglass rooms between the silos, 4 chimney routes are set, and each flat wall is occupied. One of the chimney rooms has a fist crack built of wood, which I didn’t try. Routes are not taped, anything you can reach is on. Many of the hands and feet are actually small pockets formed by the wall crumbling between silo section pours. This is a lot like outdoor climbing, since they’re camoflauged into the wall.
All of the routes are perfectly vertical, but are set from 40 to 100 feet (the highest indoor routes in the USA.) I’ll have to say, the concrete makes the holds very cold, and my hands went almost numb on my first climb on an 80 foot route.
One negative note – lighting a silo is pretty tough. One of the silos barely had enough light at the bottom to belay. It’s very cave-like. Several of the silos had very bright lights right in the center on top of 6-foot tall pipes facing upwards. These were pretty good.
OKC Rocks also doesn’t use the Yosemite rating system. They use a green/blue/black rating. At home at Climb Nashville, I climb everything through 5.10c, and occasional 5.10d and 5.11a every now and then. The first route I climbed was green (easiest), 80 feet long, and was quite difficult and reachy if you were to consider this a 5.6/5.7. Many of the routes zig-zag up the wall, and this makes for some loss of good footing (which is a plus!) I attempted a “hard blue” route, and made it up about 25 of the maybe 70 feet. Another blue stemming chimney route I flashed after some work.
The longest route in the facility is the 100 foot with the hand crack. The crack covers about 30 feet of the route, and is basically a hairline crack in the concrete, and material has crumbled away in several spots making hands and feet. Upon reaching the ceiling, the climber clips draws/anchors on the ceiling as he traverses across. Since the route is a “blue if done correctly, black if done incorrectly”, I assumed from my green/blue experiences it was out of my league and I didn’t attempt.
One small silo was barely developed with a campus board and peg board. Another had a very small bouldering wall. You shouldn’t go to OKC Rocks to boulder.
Many of the routes were very interesting, while the easy routes seemed to me too hard for beginners. Some of the cruxes weren’t set very “artfully” and the rating system left something to be desired. The length of the routes was a spectacular feature.
Only a few of the climbing areas had gravel bases. When lowering off a climb, the belayer had to be very careful not to lower someone onto the concrete too quickly.
Each belay position had daisychain anchors to the floor, since the toprope anchors only had single passes around offering little friction. But, the belay anchors were almost straight under the climber, so a dropped quickdraw or other object would clunk the belayer right on the head! If the toprope anchors had a pipe to loop around, the high friction could make things safer.
Next, when I was given my belay “checkout”, the kids running the place required me to use their belay technique. It consisted of two hands on the brake end of the rope, and taking slack was a two-handed motion, with both hands returning to brake postion. This was VERY odd to me. I’m used to belaying with one hand on the climber end which also takes slack, and one hand on the brake end. I’ve belayed indoor and outdoor toprope and lead climbers. To force me to abandon my developed SAFE habits, experience and muscle memory, I believe is much more dangerous to force me to switch to their wacky method for a few hours. When I explained that their belay technique was a problem for me, my volunteer climbing buddies just told me they’d belay me. I saw many belayers having trouble pulling two handed, what seemed like 12mm rope through their ATC’s, which caused a lot of unsafe slack in the rope.
More on ropes – the ropes used in the facility were so thick, I had trouble jamming the folded rope through my ATC. Though safe because of the additional friction, it was very inconvenient.
Also, the ropes were very dynamic. If I were on lead, this wouldn’t be a problem. But on toprope, I believe full static ropes cause a farther fall than necessary, and could cause someone to bash their teeth into a juggy hold (though that’s probably never happened!) Considering the length of the routes, those ropes were really stretchy.
One more inconvenience factor – it would be nice (and I believe safer) to have auto-lockers on the ends of the ropes. Auto-lockers make it more friendly for new climbers, and takes some error out of the process of tying in.
One last note on safety. Since the space is fairly tight, many of the routes traverse over doorways between silos. Be very careful passing through doorways, since the stretchy ropes might allow a falling climber to “boing” you.
I think OKC Rocks operators have turned a downtown eyesore into something wonderful for residents of Oklahoma City! The big flag is really cool on the outside, and really promotes pride for the city and state. If you’re passing through or happen to be in town for business, you should give it a try. Bring something warm if it’s winter time.
The operators should note – I truly believe they should let climbers with experience belay the way they’re comfortable with, as long as it’s safe. I’ve seen a half-dozen visiting climbers’ belay techniques in my gym, and all are safe. Whoever is on staff should be familiar with multiple belay techniques, have the ability to make that judgement, and allow those that are different and safe to continue with their technique.
I think I’m gonna leave Climb Nashville at the top of my list until I experience something better!