The vast, light-filled room opens to what could double as a ginormous maritime-themed art installation. Blond-wood walls, dotted with red, pink, blue, yellow, orange, and black chunks, rise like 14-foot hulls of oddly angled ships moored on two black islands. These are “bouldering walls,” the blocks are “holds.” And this is BlocHaven, Greenville’s newest climbing gym.
“The holds that they put on the walls are an artistic expression, but even the walls themselves—the company that designed them considers them a form of art,” says Will Snader, general manager of Doug and Teri Johnson’s brainchild.
The Johnsons and their seven children, ages 8 to 22, moved from Seattle to Greenville to start what he calls their “passion project,” which opened in Judson Mill last July. “Rock climbing is a great sport. It requires strength, it requires flexibility, it requires endurance, it’s all about an overall healthy body. It also requires good mental acuity because it’s all about problem-solving,” Doug says.
As he shows how the colorful holds are methodically placed and moved around every month to create different pathways to the top, he says, “Every one of these routes is a particular ‘problem,’ as they say in rock climbing.”
That’s certainly fitting for an entrepreneur who spent 30 years in tech and launched four startups. But more than creating towering puzzles for the agile set, Doug says, “We wanted to build a gym that would be a community that we could be a part of. Climbing is unique when it comes to community.”
You hear the same sentiment when you wander through the 25,000-square-foot room, roughly half the size of a football field. “It’s a great community,” says Ari Larson, a counselor in Anderson who travels from Townville two or three times a week. “I mean, this is how everybody is, you can just walk up to anybody and have a conversation.” She got into a sport that she could share with her husband, Alan, a Greenville firefighter. Before the pandemic, she attended a women’s climbing festival in Tennessee, then she worked at BlocHaven for a couple of months. This morning, her hands and clothes are dusted with chalk, which climbers use to better grip the holds along the 200-plus routes.
Will started climbing 11 or 12 years ago, his first major outdoor foray at Rumbling Bald, near Chimney Rock in North Carolina. He climbed “14ers”—mountains 14,000-feet-and-higher—in Colorado and has competed in about a dozen events around the country. He started at BlocHaven while it was called Rockoon Climbing and still in the design stages. “I grew up playing soccer. It’s highly competitive, and when I got older, I wanted something that wasn’t as competitive and intense, more encouraging and positive,” Snader says. “I found that in climbing, and then I found some of the closest people in my life.”
BlocHaven feels designed for just that. On Mondays and Tuesdays, its busiest nights, you’ll find more than 125 people scaling the four climbing areas—The Bear, The Titan, The Comp Wall, and The Mezz. Surrounding those are a café and coffee bar; an open space with exercise equipment; a yoga studio; and locker rooms and showers.
With a vibe akin to a big kids’ clubhouse, BlocHaven already rocks more than 600 members, Snader says. “It’s been a long time coming,” he says of the Upstate’s indoor-climbing scene. “Greenville’s needed something like this here. We have a lot of boxes checked. This is one of the ones that we’ve been missing. But now we have it.”
BlocHaven, 701 Easley Bridge Rd, Ste 6020, Greenville. blochaven.com
Photography by Will Crooks
Climb at Blue Ridge
Wanda Coughenour-Gwinn is perhaps Greenville’s original rock star when it comes to indoor climbing gyms. She opened Rocks & Ropes in 1995 in what became the Old Cotton Warehouse on Pendleton Street, way before much of anything was in the West End.
In 2008, the facility moved, with a new name, to Taylors. With 5,000 square feet of climbing surface, the gym provides three types of routes: bouldering, top rope, and lead. Coughenour-Gwinn says hers is “the only gym in South Carolina that offers lead climbing,” a style that involves a rope and harness and bolts and other technical stuff.
The gym also offers yoga, rentals for birthday parties and corporate getaways (think “team-building exercises!”), and even a Boy Scout program to earn a merit badge.
301 Bulls Rd, Taylors. climbbr.com
Set to open in Easley in early 2022, the facility will be the second gym from a company in Oakland Park, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale, where, y’know, mountains aren’t available. The Upstate version will stretch 31,000 square feet, with “hand-sculpted walls,” some as high as 80 feet. More than 18,000 holds rise along some 200 routes, the website says.
2121 Farrs Bridge Rd, Easley. projectrock.com